What Constitutes Harassment by a Debt Collector?

Continuous communications from debt collectors can be overwhelming and annoying, but at what point is the communication considered harassment? Debt collection harassment is more common than you might think. In fact, a recent study by the Consumerist found that one-in-four consumers – or 27 percent – felt threatened by debt collectors for outstanding bills or loans they owed.

Also, those individuals who requested the debt collector no longer contact them, 75 percent reported that they continued receiving collection calls anyway. Debt collectors have been found to threaten consumers with arrest, phony lawsuits, even deportation to receive payments.

The law outlines what is acceptable behavior and what behavior takes it a step too far in the direction of harassment or abusive collections tactics.

Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA)

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) was enacted to protect borrowers from harassing behavior from third-party debt collectors. Under the FDCPA, direct lenders or original creditors are not covered by the law’s specific language, but rather, third-party debt collectors who are hired by the original creditors to pursue the debt. Under the FDCPA, debt collectors cannot harass, abuse or oppress anyone they call or contact to collect upon a debt. This protection extends to not only the debtor but anyone who answers the phone call when the debt collector attempts contact. This behavior can come in many different forms, including repetitive phone calls meant to annoy or harass the borrower, use of obscene or threatening language or making threats of violence.

Additional forms of harassing behavior under the FDCPA includes calling the debtor without telling him or her who the person calling is, contacting the debtor at his or her place of business after being told to not contact him or her there, and communicating with third-parties to share information regarding the debt owed and the debtor. If the third-party debtor collector publishes a list of individuals who did not pay the debt, this is also considered harassing behavior covered under the FDCPA. This publication of information does not include reporting it to a credit reporting agency.

The debt collector is also barred from making misrepresentations, such as saying that he or she is an attorney when they are not, making threats to arrest or other illegal threats. These types of misrepresentations also constitute violations of the FDCPA.

What to Do Following Harassment

If someone believes he or she is being harassed by a debt collector, that person can submit a complaint online to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) or call 855-411-2372. The debtor may also contact the Florida State Attorney General to submit a complaint.

The FDCPA also allows the individual being harassed for the debt to sue the debt collector directly for the violations of the FDCPA. If the debtor is successful in his or her claim, the debt collector will be required to pay for the debtor’s attorney’s fees, as well as damages incurred.

When it comes to making a legal claim for an FDCPA violation, it helps to keep good records of all communications from the debt collector. Keep all letters or written documents received. Write down dates and times of when phone calls occurred, as well as details of the conversation. The more details the debtor has, the easier it is to prove that the violation occurred. Bring all these documents to the consultation with an attorney before making a legal claim, and the attorney can help sort through what information is helpful to prove the case.

If you have questions on this topic or are struggling with insurmountable debt, we advise sitting down with an experienced Orlando bankruptcy attorney for a free consultation- particularly if you are facing wage garnishment or have a collection lawsuit pending. A bankruptcy attorney can advise you as to all the options available to you and detail the pros and cons of each, giving you the best advise based on years of experience helping those in similar financial circumstances.