While the average consumer, unfortunately, knows really well what debt collectors can do, most don’t realize that there are federal laws restricting them from many of their debt collecting tactics.
A number of good examples include that; they can’t threaten you with physical harm, can’t say that they’re a lawyer if they aren’t, can’t use foul language or threaten you with arrest. On their website the Federal Trade Commission has an entire list of examples of things that debt collectors aren’t allowed to do and, if they indeed step over the line and do them, US consumer have the right to sue.
The reason is simple; the Fair Debt Collections Practice Act or FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from abusive, unfair and/or deceptive practices when trying to collect any debt from any consumer. It was enacted back in 1977 and has been in effect since.
Now, to be sure, when a bill or debt first goes late, most creditors will make the effort to collect it themselves by making a phone call or sending a letter to their customer. Let’s face it, sometimes people forget, payments are missed or something unusual happens and, besides late fees, things get back on track afterwards.
If that same bill doesn’t get paid for several months however, that’s when things begin to get a little bit more difficult for the consumer. In most cases their creditor will end up hiring an outside company, a collection agency, to collect the debt. In others they will sell off that bad debt but, in both cases, the consumer will almost definitely hear from a debt collector.
If you feel that the debt collection agency or company trying to collect a debt that you owe has stepped over the line, don’t wait too long to take action because you only have 12 months from the time it happens until the time that a lawsuit is filed. Also, it’s imperative that you know exactly who you’re taking to court. The fact is, sometimes your original creditor (as we mentioned above) can sell your debt to a collection agency and, if you call them, they won’t be able to do anything to help you (not that they would want to).
Also, make sure that, whenever possible, you communicate with the collection agency in writing and definitely save everything that they send you. Doing this will give you the evidence you need when things finally get to court. Speaking of which, keep everything that you have regarding the debt that you owe, including receipts, letters, notes, phone records, doctor bills and anything else that might relate to the claim.
As for damages and payments, if the judge in your case believes that federal laws were violated, you will normally get $1000. If you can prove that, for whatever reason, you suffered from the collection agency’s illegal collection practices (lost wages, medical bills, etc.) it’s possible that the judge will order the debt collector to repay those costs and also attorneys fees.
Over the last few years there have been a number of massive judgments against collection agencies, including a 1 million judgment to an elderly couple in Florida because of the abusive practices their collection agency used and the violations they made against the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.
Class action lawsuits have also been filed where that collectors have been abusive to large groups of people.
If you feel that a debt collection agency has broken the law, your first step is to consult a good attorney and get their advice.