How to protect yourself from debt collector harassment

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In a Nutshell

You work hard to pay your bills, but unfortunately, you fell behind on your credit card payments and negotiations with creditors failed. Now your credit card debt has been sold to a debt collection agency that harasses you with endless phone calls, at times even threatening you. Is there anything you can do? Is this even legal? How do you get the debt collectors to stop harassing you? Continue reading to learn about the law on unfair collection practices and what your options are to protect yourself.

Written by Attorney Alexander Hernandez.  
Updated July 22, 2020


You work hard to pay your bills, but unfortunately, you fell behind on your credit card payments and negotiations with creditors failed. Now your credit card debt has been sold to a debt collection agency that harasses you with endless phone calls, at times even threatening you. Is there anything you can do? Is this even legal? How do you get the debt collectors to stop harassing you? Continue reading to learn about the law on unfair collection practices and what your options are to protect yourself.

Know your rights

You owe money to a creditor, but that debt was sold to a third party known as a debt collector. Can the debt collector call you? Yes. Can they keep calling you to settle your account? That depends on the facts of your situation because there's a difference between trying to collect on a debt and harassment.

First, realize that the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act known as the FDCPA is a federal law designed to protect you against debt collectors who use illegal tactics to collect on a debt(s). For example, collection calls can’t take place at all hours of the day and night. A collection agency is only allowed to call you between the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. based on the time zone you live in. If the debt collection agency is calling you outside of those hours, that’s considered harassment and a violation of the FDCPA. A debt collector can call you at work, however, if you advise the debt collector that you aren’t allowed to receive personal phone calls at work, they have to stop. Of course, the collection agency is then allowed to call you after work hours, up till 9 p.m., but repeated calls can’t be made if the intent is to annoy, abuse, or harass you.  

Using threats of violence or obscene and profane language is also against the law. Bill collectors also aren’t allowed to communicate about the debt to third parties such as friends, family, and co-workers. If the debt collector knows you hired an attorney, they also can’t contact you unless your attorney has failed to reply to their requests within a reasonable amount of time. 

What’s a debt collector

The Fair Debt Collections Practice Act defines a debt collector as an individual or business whose “principal purpose” is the collection of debts.  If the debt is still with the original creditor, the FDCPA doesn’t apply unless the original creditor is using any name other than their own or represents themselves as a third party. Even though the FDCPA doesn’t apply to original creditors, if they’re using unfair, deceptive, and/or abusive collection practices, then you can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, known as the CFPB. The CFPB is a federal organization that focuses on consumer protection issues in connection with financial institutions such as banks and lenders and the products they offer such as mortgages, credit cards, and student loans. Abuses and harassment by creditors can be reported to the CFPB.

Your rights under the FDCPA

Remember, the FDCPA is there to protect you from debt collectors who are violating the law. Enforcement of the rules is done by the Federal Trade Commission known as the FTC. If you believe a debt collector has violated the FDCPA, you can file a complaint with the FTC. You also have the option of suing the debt collector. However, any lawsuits have to be filed within one year of the violation to comply with the statute of limitations. Statutes of limitations determine the time frame a lawsuit can be filed. 

Even if you don’t proceed with a lawsuit, there are still several steps you can take to protect yourself and stop harassing calls from collection agencies. For example, the FDCPA is federal law, but the collection agency may also be violating state law. If so, you can file a complaint with the State Attorney General. But before filing a complaint or a lawsuit, continue reading to know what steps to take and what information you need.

Do your part

The first thing you should do when communicating with a debt collector is keep detailed notes. Keep a file to organize the letters and documents that you’re sending and receiving. A call log will help you keep track of the dates and times those phone calls took place. If you used your cell phone, take a screenshot of the phone call as proof. Write down the name of the creditor or agent you spoke to, including any identification number, their contact information such as phone number, and a direct extension. If you hired an attorney for a bankruptcy, make sure to give the debt collector the law firm’s contact information so that future communications are directly with your attorney.

After the initial communication, the debt collector has to send you written notice within 5 days. That letter should include additional information such as the amount of the debt and the account number, and that you have 30 days to dispute all or part of the debt. If you’re disputing the debt, request verification of the debt and the contact information of the original creditor. If the debt belonged to another debt collector previously, request the contact information of that debt collector as well. Once the debt collector receives your request, they have 30 days to comply. Because there are several deadlines to comply with, make sure to keep track of those dates with a calendar. Notify the collection agency if they failed to comply with any deadlines.

Knowing your rights and taking steps to protect yourself (like taking detailed notes and requesting information) will put the creditor on notice. While this can be a difficult and stressful situation, it’s important to remain calm. Remember, the phone call is most likely being recorded by the debt collector and you don’t want to say or do anything that could be used against you. If the debt collector continues to violate the FDCPA, consider filing a formal complaint or filing a lawsuit.

Take action 

If you’re going to communicate with the debt collector by phone, provide a phone number they can reach you at and the convenient times you’re available between 8 a.m. through 9 p.m. You also have the option of having the collection agency stop calling you by sending them a cease and desist letter. Any letters you send the debt collector should be certified and with a return receipt to prove they received your letter. In your letter, there is certain information you should request. 

For example, have the debt collector verify the debt since they may be contacting the wrong person. If you were a co-signer, have the debt collection agency identify the other party. Request copies of any agreements between the original creditor and the debt collector to confirm they have authority to collect on the debt. Even though the debt collector will advise you of the outstanding balance, request an itemized statement to compare it to the balance with the original creditor. The itemized statement should show if late charges were applied and the interest rate. Also confirm when the last payment was made because the age of the debt may affect the statute of limitations. Depending on the laws of your state, if the statute of limitations has expired, the debt collector may not be able to proceed with a collection action. Be careful when the debt collection agency requests a minimal payment as a token of good faith. They may be trying to extend the time period of the statute of limitations. In some states, the statute of limitations starts again even after expiration if a payment is made. 

If the creditor wasn’t able to verify the debt, make sure they are notified in writing to remove that information from your credit report as that will hurt your credit score. If they fail to comply, that’s a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act known as the FCRA.

Notify the collection agency of any violations in writing. If you believe the debt collector has violated the law consider speaking to an attorney about it. Many FDCPA lawyers assist clients on a contingency basis, meaning you don’t have to pay them unless you receive money from the action. 

Conclusion

Even though dealing with debt collectors is stressful, you don’t need to tolerate debt collectors that engage in unfair practices. Know your rights. Take action, protect yourself, and learn about the different debt relief options available to you, including bankruptcy. Remember, stopping harassing phone calls doesn’t stop collection efforts like the filing of a lawsuit. In addition, other debt collection agencies could also call you or proceed with legal action. Your debt may even be sold again to another debt collection agency and then the process starts all over again. 

During these difficult times, remember with Upsolve, you’re never alone. Use our free web tool to prepare for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy or search our website for hundreds of articles on bankruptcy and other debt relief options available to you such as debt management plans, debt consolidation, or debt settlement.



Written By:

Attorney Alexander Hernandez

LinkedIn

Since graduating from Nova Southeastern School of Law in 1999, Alexander Hernandez has focused a majority of his law practice on bankruptcy law. He was a founding partner of the South Florida Bankruptcy Center which focused exclusively on Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcies. Al... read more about Attorney Alexander Hernandez

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