The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, details what debt collectors may or may not do when they collect debt. First and foremost, it prevents debt collectors from using unfair, deceptive or abusive practices to collect on a debt.
For example, debt collectors may not:
- Threaten debtors with violence
- Use profane language when collecting on a debt
- Repeatedly and harassingly call a debtor
- Lie about a debt
- Mislead a debtor about the forms they send to him or her
- Tell a debtor that he or she will be arrested for not paying a debt
- Threaten to seize or garnish property that they are not permitted by law to seize or garnish
- Give false credit information about a debtor to a credit reporting company
- Use a false company name
- Try to collect interest, fees or charges outside of the contracted debt and state law
What, then, can debt collectors do? First, they may contact you between the hours of 8 am and 9 pm if that contact is considered reasonable. They may also bring a lawsuit against you to collect on a debt and, if they win, ask for a garnishment order against you (such as an order to garnish your wages to pay back the debt). Note: In most cases, a creditor may not garnish wages without a court order allowing it to do so.
What steps can you take to prevent creditor harassment?
If you feel you are being harassed by a creditor, you can choose to take a number of steps, depending on your unique situation:
- If you do not think you owe the money the debt collector is requesting, you can send the collector a letter asking for verification of the debt. The collector must stop contacting you unless it sends you written verification of the debt.
- If you believe the debt collector has broken the law, you can sue that collector in either state or federal court. You must bring a lawsuit within one year of the violation. You may be able to recover money for the damages you suffered as a result of the unlawful collection practices.
- You may report alleged violations to the Texas Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Trade Commission.
If the debt collector is acting lawfully but you would still like to stop creditors from contacting you because you simply cannot pay back your debt, bankruptcy may be an option. By filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you put a stop to all creditor harassment during the course of your bankruptcy – and maybe forever, if that debt is discharged during the bankruptcy.
Source: Federal Trade Commission, “Debt Collection FAQs: A Guide for Consumers,” Feb. 2009