It’s all too easy to find yourself struggling with debt. Especially after the past year, many people in California are fighting to pay their bills and facing mounting credit card debt. If this sounds familiar, you may also recognize a common but illegal creditor strategy: harassment.
While some creditors will work with you to develop a payment plan, some will not. Instead, they work with debt collectors to harass you for payment. You may experience constant, threatening phone calls, obscene language, or intimidation. The goal is to scare you into ignoring your other responsibilities and pay the creditors harassing you first.
If you’re being harassed by debt collectors, you’re not alone. More importantly, you have options to fight back. Don’t just give in and pay the creditors who are harassing you. Learn your legal rights and take back control over your life. Here’s what you need to know about stopping creditor harassment for good.
Harassment and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)
The FDCPA is a consumer-protection law that’s been in place since 2010. In the wake of the 2008 housing crisis, the federal government instituted the FDCPA to protect people from threatening, harmful, and scary behavior by collection agencies.
The law’s declaration of purpose notes that “[a]busive debt collection practices contribute to the number of personal bankruptcies, to marital instability, to the loss of jobs, and to invasions of individual privacy.” To combat this, the FDCPA outlines specific behaviors that are considered “abusive” and outlines how debt collectors are legally allowed to do their work.
A debt collector needs to follow these guidelines, or they may be violating the FDCPA:
- They must always give you their name, employer, why they’re calling, and an explanation of how they will use any information you provide them.
- They may only communicate with you, your spouse, codebtors, attorney, the original creditor, and credit reporting agencies about the money.
- They can’t continue contacting your spouse or codebtors if you send them a cease and desist letter.
- They are only allowed to contact third parties to learn your contact information, and they cannot state that you owe a debt or by whom they’re employed. Furthermore, they can only contact third parties once.
- Once you’re represented by an attorney, they must only contact your attorney.
These guidelines explain how debt collectors should operate. Meanwhile, the bill also lists some behaviors are expressly prohibited.
What’s Considered Harassment?
As an American citizen, you’re protected from creditor harassment by law. If you owe money, you still have individual rights that keep you safe from threats and violence.
There are two specific types of creditor behavior that are barred by law: harassment and misrepresentation. Both are grounds for a civil lawsuit against your creditors, but there are some differences between the two.
Genuine harassment is anything that involves annoying, abusing, or acting aggressively towards you to try to collect a debt. Common types of harassment are:
- Calling you at strange hours to wake you up
- Calling or texting you constantly to annoy you
- Using “profane” or obscene language when you answer the phone
- Threatening you or your family with harm or violence
- Calling you without giving you any information about who the creditor is
- Including your name on public lists of people who “refuse to pay their debts”
- Contacting third parties about the money you owe
Any of these behaviors are grounds to sue your creditors for harassment.
That’s not all. You’re also protected from “misrepresentation,” where the creditor lies to you about essential elements of your debt. Your creditor cannot misrepresent things like:
- The amount you owe
- The actions they can legally take to claim the money
- Whether they are an attorney
- Their ability to have you arrested
- Their intention to do things that your creditor will not actually do
Misrepresentations can be intimidating, but you should not yield. Instead, you should work to fight back against these bullies and reclaim your life.
How You Can Fight Back
If you’re being harassed, you have many ways to fight back. Here’s how to begin the process of stopping debt collection harassment for good.
One of the most essential tools you have in your fight against collection agencies is information. It’s difficult to prove that you’re being harassed unless you collect evidence. The simplest way to do this is to start a running document with dates, times, and descriptions of the debt collectors’ behavior.
In California, collection agencies can’t record phone calls without your permission and vice versa. This means that recorded phone calls can’t be used in court in many cases. However, written communication like letters, emails, text messages, and even your call history are helpful and should be saved as proof.
File a Complaint
Once you have proof that your debt collectors are breaking the law, it’s time to file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This complaint will sometimes end the harassment, but not always. If the threatening calls continue, then it’s time to take legal action.
File a Lawsuit
Debt collection harassment lawsuits are civil cases that allow you to get compensation for the harm the collectors caused you. To sue a debt collector, you need to show two things are true. First, the collector must have violated the FDCPA. Second, you need to have suffered damages such as physical harm, emotional distress, lost wages, and wage garnishment.
If both of these are true in your situation, you should immediately contact an attorney. Once you’re represented by an attorney, collection agencies cannot legally contact you anymore; they must talk to your lawyer. Your attorney will also organize your lawsuit to give you the best chance of receiving the damages you’re owed.
Take Back Your Life
You don’t have to suffer from harassment just because you’re in debt. The FDCPA specifically prohibits predatory debt collection behavior. You can and should start the process of reclaiming your life from collections today.
If you believe you’re facing harassment, reach out to an experienced debt collections attorney. They can help you consider your options, work with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to end harassing calls, and sue for damages. Your financial past shouldn’t make you a target. With the right attorney, you can not only end the abuse, you can even fight back.