Have you ever been harassed by a debt collector to a point you’ve wondered, “Is this even legal? What can’t a debt collector do?” Whether or not you owe a debt, there are laws that limit debt collectors in what they can do to collect a debt.
The laws under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act are designed to ensure that creditors act in a reasonable, respectful manner when trying to collect a debt. These laws ban several categories of collection behavior.
What Can’t a Debt Collector Do?
Harassment most frequently involves calling over and over again with the purpose to annoy the alleged debtor. It is not harassment to try at a different time or on a different day, but the number of calls must be reasonable.
Creditors also may not call early in the morning or late at night, usually defined as before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you give them permission to do so. Harassment may also include obscene or profane language, threats of violence or harm, or telling third parties, such as employers, that you owe a debt. Sometimes, debt collectors will call about debts you don’t even owe!
Debt collectors are also prohibited from lying. They can’t misidentify themselves as government agents, law enforcement officials, or attorneys unless they are.
Collectors cannot say that you will be prosecuted for a crime or sued unless they can actually take that action and intend to. They also can’t overstate your debts or say that you owe additional fees when you do not.
They can’t threaten to garnish or seize your property or wages when they aren’t entitled to — and to be entitled to without a previous contract stating they are, they need to go to court.
A number of other unfair practices are prohibited by law. Most importantly, debt collectors can’t add collection fees or increase your interest rate unless your original contract provided for such a charge or state law allows such a charge to be added even when not included in a contract.
Only your original debt and agreed interest may be collected; debt collectors make their money by purchasing the debt from the original creditor at a discount. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act also prohibits certain specific actions such as depositing post-dated checks and from contacting debtors by postcard.
How to Deal with Fair Debt Collection Practices Act Violations
If a debt collector engages in unfair debt collection practices, you may be entitled to collect monetary damages either in a counterclaim when they sue you or by filing your own lawsuit. The law permits statutory damages of up to $1,000 plus attorney costs and fees.
If you are able to prove emotional or physical distress, lost wages, or improper wage garnishment, you may also be entitled to recover for those expenses in addition to the statutory damages. Contact a debtor-creditor attorney to learn more about what you may be able to receive.