Should you ever find yourself forced to default on a debt, the cascade of consequences you’ll experience will include interacting with a debt collections agent. While most of these folks are simply professionals doing a job, some of them seem to enjoy treating people harshly. Fortunately, though, there are laws that govern how they can engage with you, plus there are steps you can take too to remain in control.
Here’s what to do if a debt collector is harassing you.
People who work in the debt collection industry are governed under the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA). In keeping with this legislation, the U.S Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) describes instances of harassment as follows:
- Making repetitive phone calls intended to annoy, abuse, or harass you or any person answering the phone
- Using obscene or profane language
- Issuing threats of violence or harm
- Publishing lists of people who refuse to pay their debts (this does not include reporting information to a credit reporting company)
- Calling you without telling you who they are
Further, they must be honest and forthright in their conversations with you. To that end, they cannot use false, deceptive, or misleading practices.
Here are some examples of harassment behavior:
- Lying about the amount owed
- Implying they are an attorney if they are not
- Making false threats to have you arrested
- Threatening to do things that cannot legally be done
- Threatening to do things they have no intention of doing
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers the entire text of harassment and best practices in the FDCPA at its FTC.gov site.
What You Can Do About It
You have the right to request collections people stop contacting you about a debt altogether. You must do so in writing and the CFPB provides a sample letter you can use to make the request. Keep in mind though, this only makes them stop calling; you’ll still owe the debt until you pay it off — either on your own or through a strategy like debt consolidation, debt management or debt settlement.
Record keeping is vital, so you have evidence of all communication between you and the debt collection agency. Start all interaction with getting the name of the person and the company they are representing. Keep track of the dates and times of all your communications and log the details of the interaction.
Save every piece of communication you get from the collector or their representative, including voice mail, email, text messages, phone calls and in-person exchanges. In the event of a phone call, record it.
Ask the debt collection agent that you need their consent to record the call and tell them you will not accept the call if they do not allow it to be recorded. Commence recording the moment they say who they are and if they show up at your home, your job or anyplace else, use video.
Above all, though, make it a point to remain both cordial and polite, regardless of the way they behave. Being in control of your actions is important especially as you’ll have records of every interaction in which you will look to be reasonable in the face of their abuse.
File a Claim
Report them to the FTC, the CFPB, the Better Business Bureau and your state’s attorney’s general office. You can also sue them for harassment in court, which is where the documentation you collected can be used to substantiate your claim. They’ll have to pay court costs as well as a $1,000 fine if you win.
During recessionary times, sudden loss of income can result in outstanding debts and creditors doing all they can to collect what’s owing. Keep in mind, while knowing what to do if a debt collector is harassing, you can help yourself to preserve your peace of mind, through being in control of your own actions during the process. Plus you will still owe the debt.