If you’re struggling with debt, you’re not alone. Studies have found that the average American household with at least one credit card carries more than $15,000 in credit card debt. The average U.S. student loan debt is $33, 445, and the average U.S. mortgage debt is nearly $150,000. For many Americans, adding to the stress of the debt itself is a constant string of phone calls and other forms of harassment by creditors.
Although creditors are allowed to pursue payment via certain avenues, other forms of creditor harassment are illegal and prohibited by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which was enacted in 1978. The FDCPA protects consumers by prohibiting certain actions that constitute debt collection harassment. If creditors or third party debt collectors are harassing you in ways that violate the FDCPA, be aware that you have legal recourse.
What debt collectors can NOT do:
Under the FDCPA, consumers can file a debt collection lawsuit against creditors who engage in abusive debt collection practices. Actions that constitute creditor harassment under the FDCPA include:
- Frequent, repeated phone calls
- Phone calls at unreasonable hours (defined as before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m.)
- Contacting third parties, such as consumers’ parents, siblings, or employers, and sharing information with them about the consumers’ debt
- Attempting to collect the money owed by using deceit or misrepresentation
- Continuing to call or contact the consumer after the consumer sent a written request for them to cease communication
- Communicating directly with a consumer who is represented by debt collection attorneys
- Threats of arrest or legal action against consumers
- Reporting incorrect information to a credit bureau
- Communicating with consumers who have already filed for bankruptcy
- Using profanity or abusive language
- Attempting to collect additional money unrelated to the original debt
Steps to take
To end creditor harassment, there are a number of steps you can take. First, send a written communication to the creditor or debt collection agency ordering them to stop all contact. After this written communication is received, the creditor or debt collection agency is not allowed to call any more, and may communicate with you only one more time to inform you of their intended action related to the debt.
If the creditor or debt collection agency continues to harass you after this point, make sure to document all instances of harassment and prohibited behavior, and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
If the amount of the debt is in dispute, you must send a written notice disputing the amount to the creditor within 30 days after you first receive notice of the outstanding debt. In the written notice, explain why you do not owe the amount of money stated, and request proof of the debt. Once the creditors receive that notice, they are not allowed to contact you again without providing proof of the debt that can be verified.
Filing a lawsuit with a debt collection attorney
If creditors or debt collection agencies continue to harass you despite taking these steps, you can file a debt collection lawsuit. This must be done as soon as possible, because there is a one-year statute of limitations on filing such a lawsuit. A successful debt collection lawsuit can recompense you for any economic damages you suffered because of the creditor abuses, such as lost wages or medical expenses, as well as attorney fees and court costs, and statutory damages of up to $1,000.
David Barshay, a New York attorney at Sanders Law, PLLC says, “We find this type of abuse very common, and when it does occur, we protect the consumer by suing the debt collector. We have been very successful in winning these cases, and often, when we intervene, the client no longer owes the original debt.” For more information on how to get help, you can visit sanderslitigation.com.