Usually when someone receives dozens of phone calls at all hours of the day, all by the same person who also troubles the victim’s family, friends, and neighbors, we have a word for it: STALKER! And legally, stalkers are criminals.
Suppose the same scenario applies with just one difference: the “stalker” is a debt collector. Most people would be much less likely to think of the behavior as criminal.
Legal Bindings for Debt Collectors
In a sense, that behavior is criminal. Except to your pocketbook, a debt collector may not be as scary nor as creepy (although often extremely creepy tactics ARE used), but it’s every bit as illegal; the debt collector can be hauled into court and face stiff penalties. However, it’s not the police who do the job: if you’re the victim, it’s YOU. You can take action against the debt collector and if you’re successful, you can collect as much as $1,000 in fines. You can also recover your attorney’s fees and court costs—all thanks to something called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (or FDCPA), the 15 U.S. Code § 1692, and the Rosenthal Act.
The list of debt collector no-no’s is much too long to post here, but we can briefly mention the most typical abuses.
If you notify the debt collector in writing to “cease further communication,” their phone calls have to stop. The same goes if you inform the debt collector of your attorney’s name, and that doesn’t even have to be in writing!
Legal No-Nos for Debt Collectors
Whether or not you notify them, debt collectors are NEVER allowed to:
- Call before 8 AM or after 9 PM
- Leave the phone ringing for a long time
- Contact anyone else except to ask about your whereabouts (and then only once per person)
- Mention your debt to anyone else
- Send you a postcard of any kind or an envelope that makes it obvious you’re in debt
- Send you anything that appears as though it’s from a lawyer, government or court
While they are allowed to call you fairly often, debt collectors are legally required to never use threatening or abusive language, nor speak to anyone but you, your spouse, your legal guardian, or your attorney. They can’t suggest you’ve committed a crime or are going to prison, nor can they threaten anything that they don’t intend to do.
In fact, debt collectors can’t do anything that is legally known as:
But what if they do? Here’s what: Take them to court. Keep good records of calls and letters, to be sure you can document the offenses and thus increase your chance to win the case. If you’re successful, they could be obliged to pay you as much as $1,000 in fines, plus your attorney’s fees and legal costs.