Debt collection harassment usually happens when you don’t pay your debt on time. You may not know that you are already being harassed. Take note that harassment come in the form of abusive, intimidating, coercive and browbeat statements directed at you by the collector. This can happen through the phone, direct mail, text, email or personally. This is not only embarrassing and condescending; it also violates your right as a debtor. So aside from concerning yourself with how to get out of debt, you also have to deal with abuses done by debt collectors.
While it is true that collection agencies have the right to recover the money owed by the debtors, they are not allowed, under the law, to use threatening means and deceptive techniques. In line with this, we prepared the things you can do in case you experience debt collection harassment.
Know the Federal Law
As a response to the growing number of complaints regarding debt collection, particularly the methods used by the collection agencies, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) was enacted in 1977 and eventually amended in 1996. Take note that this law was enacted to protect debtors from abusive collection agencies, and not from the original creditors.
Paraphrasing the provision in FDCPA, there is harassment when debt collectors use threat, violence, profane language, obscene statement and other criminal means in collecting the debt. Debt collection harassment also comes in the form of misleading information, false representation, false implication and other similar means. If you experience any form of harassment, as aforementioned, you must notify the collection agency and original creditor, stating that you are being harassed by the former. This is the first step towards a possible compromise.
Get Rid of the Phone Calls
Phone calls are not just annoying, but they are also a form of harassment, especially if the statements you hear are aggressive and profane. One or two phone calls from the collection agency are tolerable. But after answering them, hearing their side and providing your response, if they still continue to call and annoy you, you can get rid of the calls altogether. Here are some steps you must follow in order to stop the phone calls and possible further debt collection harassment.
- Wait for a validation notice. The law requires collection agencies to send a validation notice within five days to the debtors. Generally, such notice contains the amount of money you owe, the name of the original creditor, and the things you can do in case there are any errors.
- It is true that debt collectors have the right to make other calls, with restrictions, after the first call. They cannot call you at work but they can ask questions about you to your friends and family. The good thing is, you are also allowed by law to stop the phone calls. You can hire a lawyer so the phone calls will be referred to him or her, or you can simply send, via certified mail, a cease-and-desist letter to the collection agency. Upon the receipt of the certified letter, the collection agency can no longer contact you. The only exceptions are if you they call to notify you that they have received your letter and if they will file a lawsuit against you.
- Don’t equate a cease-and-desist letter with payment. Of course, you still owe the money. The letter only stops the phone calls. The collection agency will still collect the money from you but through other means.
If Harassment Goes On
Normally, sending a certified letter would stop the debt collection harassment. However, there are cases that the harassment will still go on even after you hired a lawyer or sent a letter. This usually happens if you don’t respond to the notice they sent. In order to avoid further calls, you must send a response to the validation notice within 30 days. If they still continue to call you even with your response, it is time to send a cease-and-desist letter and have a lawyer by your side.
Take Legal Action
If the harassment still continues, then it is time to take legal action. You can file a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Federal Trade Commission, or the attorney general’s office. After filing the complaint, you can then sue the collector. You can claim for suffered damages if proven. If you can prove debt collection harassment, you may be awarded up to $1,000. If you sue for harassment, make sure that you do the following things to win the argument in your favor.
- Provide a log that contains the details of your complains with the collection agency and the occurrence of their violations of FDCPA.
- Have the phone calls recorded. However, you must advise the caller that you will be recording the call so won’t be in violation of the law.
- Save any written correspondence and the voicemail messages you receive from the agency. You can use all these in the legal proceeding in your favor.
If the Collection Agency Sues
The law provides you rights against debt collection harassment, but this does not mean that you are immune from suit or that you are absolved from your debts. You still need to pay the money you owe. And if you keep dodging the collectors, they might resort to court and file charges against you to recover the money you owe. When this happens, it’s best to remember the following:
- Don’t ignore summons. This is very important.
- You can avoid legal action against you by asking the original creditor or collection agency to negotiate for a settlement. Like you, they also want to avoid a court hearing.
- Work towards a compromise. You might be able to convince the collector to have the amount reduced. If they agree, have it in writing just in case.
- In cases where the debt is not really yours, you must still not ignore the debt collectors. They might sue you. Don’t dodge them.
Debt collection harassment can sometimes be settled through agreement and friendly talks. However, there are instances where the collection agency still continues to use abusive, misleading and aggressive means to get money from you. At times like this, it is best to have a debt attorney at your side. Hiring an attorney will certainly help you fight off the harassment and win the case in court, if needed.