As American debt in general has risen, so has the practice of unfair debt collection practices. This led to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which was a breakthrough in giving aid to unfair creditors. However, the problem is far from solved, with over 300,000 complaints to the Federal Trade Commission between 2006 and 2011. Despite this huge influx of complaints, a mere 32 formal actions were taken against the agencies practicing unfair debt collection practices—in 10 years! To make up for this, consumers should learn now how to protect their rights and deal with unfair debt collection practices on their own.
Where Requests Become Harassment
An entire industry revolves around debt collection, and illegal or unfair debt collection practices are shockingly prevalent within it. The agents working for this industry are paid based off of the number of debts they collect, and many have quotas to meet. To meet these, they’ll resort to a number of threats that they are not allowed to make:
- Seizing property or cutting pay: Agencies are almost never permitted to do these things, so collectors have no valid permission to make this threat.
- Notifying people of your debt: Without your express permission, agencies have no right to tell employers, banks, or other institutions about the amount, nature, or even existence of your debt.
- Initiation of criminal complaint: Fraud claims made by the collection agencies are false, and they are unable to initiate criminal complaints against you.
- Self-misrepresentation: This particularly frequent method is to claim to be someone they are not, like an investigator for fraud cases or a lawyer. This is a trick to try to add legal fees to debt, or more often simply intimidate you. This is one of the most criminal unfair debt collection practices unfortunately seen today.
- Police threats: Some collectors like to tell the debtor that a police officer is en route to their house at the moment to make an arrest, which is totally false. Debt cases are never handled via arrests—do not believe this!
- Other harassment, oppression, and abuse: Searches through credit card bills and other financial records to find embarrassing purchases is a tactic used by some very dedicated debt collectors. Any controversial or arguable purchase will result in a threat to notify your employer or even your family. Other abuse can be excessively often calls or profane language, all of which are unfair debt collection practices.
Some debt collectors may claim to be someone that they are not to try to get you to pay. If you receive a call from any of these people, know that it’s fake.
- Law Enforcement: Any claimed connections to government are fake, unless the collection involves unpaid child support or district attorney check diversion. Any government debt communication is made by mail first.
- Amount Owed: Collectors may attempt to collect more debt than you actually owe, which is punishable under fraud charges.
- Attorneys: Any claims to be from a law office are false, legal action will always be handled through a judge.
- Action Warnings: Claims that you will be arrested or your possessions will be taken are false, unless the original creditor has found an extremely rare case that allows them to take this action—this is almost never the case, and more often an attempt at unfair debt collection practices.
- Illegal Threats: Unintended or forbidden actions will not happen, regardless of how severely they are threatened. “Final Notices” demanding payment are not allowed. Threats to sell debt to a third party so you lose claims are also impossible measures to take in reality.
- False Claims: They may accuse you of criminal charges or tell the state you are not disputing the debt, or even claim that they are employed by a credit bureau or bank rather than collection agency.
- Falsifying court and legal documents, or using fake business names are also not uncommon.
Some actions are regarded by the government as unfair and even outrageous, and cannot happen, like these:
- Add extra debt from interest or other charges that was not originally agreed upon or legal
- Deposit postdated checks early, or solicit postdated checks with threats of prosecution
- Cause unjust communications fees like collect calls or postage by obscuring or falsifying the true intent of the communication
- Threaten to take over your ownings, when they have no right, reason, or intention
- Communicate via postcards
- Make any markings on an envelope that indicate it has anything to do with debt collection
Fred Williams is a journalist who did extensive study into collection agencies, and even took a leave of absence to work for one to get an inside look. Many of the examples above have been exposed by him, and happen to real people
Know your rights about debt collection, and be able to realize which accusations are baseless and which threats are empty. If harassment continues, talk to an attorney to see if you may have grounds for criminal charges against the agency. As always, do your research to avoid making a critical mistake.