How to Defend Yourself When Debt Collectors Get Extreme

Money, Rights

About 10 percent of Americans — 30 million people, that is — are currently being pursued by debt collection agencies. Of these people, at least 100,000 report being subject to illegal predatory tactics each year.

Debt collection is a 12-billion-dollar industry, more than 4500 companies strong. In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission received an alarming 180,000 complaints about such companies — nearly 13 times more than were received in 2000. Debt collection tactics used by these companies are often ruthless — and very much illegal.

Debt Collectors Will Do Anything to Make You Pay

Being hunted by debt collectors is obviously frustrating, especially when you have no idea where the debt came from and/or you are unable to pay a large debt. Unfortunately, the annoyances go beyond collectors calling daily with a friendly reminder to mind your bills. An Erie, Pennsylvania debt collection agency known as the Unicredit Debt Resolution Center hired employees to dress up as fake sheriff’s deputies and deliver fake subpoenas before hauling people to a fake courtroom where a fake judge would coerce them into disclosing their bank account information and hand over the titles to their cars.

Scared yet? A California-based company threatened to kill consumers’ and their pets and/or dig up the bodies of their deceased family members. Other complaints against the company involved  the company revealing consumers’ debts to their employers, co-workers, neighbors, and family members; the company also allegedly threatened wage garnishment, consumer liability to legal fees incurred in collecting their debts, etc. We’re not surprised to find out the company also kept more of consumers’ money than they were entitled to, often neglecting to pass money along to clients to whom the money was owed in the first place.

Protecting Yourself Against Illegal Debt Collection

Of the 7,000+ complaints the Federal Trade Commission has published in regards to the debt collection industry, more than 2,000 were from people who reported being pursued for debts they had already paid or that weren’t their debts in the first place. More than a third of complaints released by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPC) were in the same boat.

How Safe Are We from Debt Collectors?

Being aware of what debt collectors are not allowed to do can help you fight back against harassment. You may be entitled to money for being harassed (think $1,000 per account with violations by a collections agent). Debt collectors should not:

  • Do anything deceptive, fraudulent, or designed to harass or intimidate you.
  • Call repeatedly or at unreasonable times (before 8am or after 9pm).
  • Send you fake court letters.
  • Make false representations.
  • Seek collection fees or interest charges not allowed by your contract or state.
  • Threaten you with arrest.
  • Communicate with anyone other than you regarding your debt.

Some State Loopholes Leave You Vulnerable

Debt collection agencies constantly capitalize on confusing their targeted consumers. Some Minneapolis collection agencies, for instance, send a court summons and leave the court number off, hoping consumers will think the summons is bogus and ignore it. The consumer then goes into default. Many state laws are quirky, giving a convenient loophole allowing the debt collection industry to continue confusing consumers.
Become familiar with your state’s debt collection laws, and contact an attorney before responding to any debt collection attempts. Document all communication with debt collectors, including when they call you and what they say. Also, attempt to get any information you can from friends or family who are contacted about your personal debts. Finally, be sure to document and research the legalities of debt collection attempts against you.