How to Stop Debt Collector Harassment
Harassing phone calls from debt collectors can do more than add to your level of stress. Debt collector harassment has led to personal bankruptcies, marital instability, loss of jobs, and invasion of privacy.
Persistent attempts for collection of debt or verification of debt is legal. But debt collector harassment is illegal and is not tolerated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You are protected under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
Most debt collectors realize this and obey federal law. But some debt collectors cross the line and engage in debt collector harassment. Fortunately, there are legal actions you can take to stop this harassment.
Steps To Stop Debt Collector Harassment
You might have a creditor who calls too often, uses profane or obscene language, threatens violence, sends harassing text messages, or more.
Fortunately, there are legal actions you can take to stop this harassment:
1. Write a Letter Requesting To Cease Communications
The first thing to do is to write the debt collector a letter telling them to stop calling you. You can use the sample letter language here.
Keep in mind that the debt won't just go away because of a letter. You must:
- Make payments on the debt
- Plan to dispute the debt
- File bankruptcy and get a debt discharge or repayment plan
- Deal with the debt collectors as they come
Remember: The longer you wait, the worse the debt situation may become for you. The debt collections must stop contacting you, but they can file a debt lawsuit against you or keep reporting your debt to credit agencies.
2. Document All Contact and Harassment
Be sure to document all illegal behavior. Any conduct prohibited by the FDCPA should be documented immediately.
Keep a log of all of the debt collector's harassment. You may even want to consider having another person present during debt collector phone calls or communications.
Some people even record their conversations with the debt collector without telling the debt collector. This is illegal in some states, so be sure to check your own state's laws.
3. File a Complaint With the FTC
If the debt collector continues to harass you, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by reporting the company online.
In your complaint, be sure to include:
- Collection agency's name and address
- Name of the original creditor
- Dates and times of all communications
- Names of any witnesses
- Copies of any other material (written communications, tapes of conversations, your debt collector harassment log, etc.)
4. File a Complaint With Your State's Agency
Sending a complaint to your state's agency that deals with creditor harassment is a good idea. You should also send copies to the collection agency and the original creditor.
In some cases, concerned for their own liability, the debt collector may offer to cancel the debt if you withdraw the complaint. This would be a great outcome for you because you could avoid the debt, the harassing communication would stop, and you could avoid potentially long proceedings by the Federal Trade Commission.
5. Consider Suing the Debt Collection Agency for Harassment
Another option is to sue the debt collector. Only consider this option if you have an extreme debt collector harassment case, not just because the debt collector is annoying. If you lose your case, the court could make you pay the debt collector's court costs and attorney's fees.
The FDCPA is a "strict liability" law. This means that you do not have to prove any actual damages.
You have one year from the time the debt collector violated the law to sue for damages in state or federal court. You can be awarded up to $1,000 plus attorney's fees just because the debt collector violated the law. Furthermore, if you can show actual damages, such as the cost of switching a phone number, you can recover those damages as well.
Remember, your debt will remain valid even though the collector violated the law.
If the debt collector proves that the violation was unintentional and resulted from a "bona fide error," despite the company's procedure to avoid such errors, they could escape liability.
Dealing With Creditors Informally
You can stop debt collection harassment with the steps above or by filing for bankruptcy. Eventually, your debt must be handled, or it will never go away.
Creditors would rather keep you as a paying customer, so they might offer you a loan "workout" or other alternatives. You have the option to deal with creditors informally to negotiate mutually beneficial terms.
Your options include:
- Repayment plans
- Credit counseling
- Loan workouts
- Other non-bankruptcy workouts
- Disputing billing charges
Have an Attorney Help With Debt Collection Harassment
While collection agencies often use tactics to "encourage" you to pay your bills through harassment, they're also bound by certain laws and regulations.
If you aren't sure what actions are illegal or are currently facing harassment from collectors, you may want to speak with a local debt and bankruptcy law attorney.