This time, in our monthly series, we’re talking about false or misleading representations debt collectors may make to consumers.
Of the many prohibitions in this section, let’s zoom in on one particular no-no:
Representing or implying that nonpayment of any debt will result in the arrest or imprisonment of any person or the seizure, garnishment, attachment, or sale of any property or wages of any person unless such action is lawful and the debt collector or creditor intends to take such action.
Bottomline: debt collectors can not call you up, tell you that you owe X amount of money, and then inform you that you will be arrested if you don’t pay that money by the end of the day. Or that you’ll be thrown into jail if you don’t pay the debt.
That’s not how debt collection, or the legal process in general, works.
But it is scary, to listen to someone you don’t know, who you assume probably knows more about this area than you do, threaten you with legal actions that seem out of your control.
Here’s a tip: people who are thrown into jail have received some sort of judicial notice – whether by court order or bench warrant – that they are facing jail time. The only other way I can think of is if you violate a criminal law, like assaulting someone or disturbing the peace or distributing drugs, you can expect that if you get caught, you’ll likely be spending a night or two in jail before getting to see the judge to discuss a bond.
My point is that jail happens to those who commit criminal acts and are considered a threat to themselves or the community, NOT to people who have a debt being collected on. There is no authority for a private individual or entity to have someone locked up in jail. That only happens after a judge or jury has weighed the evidence, or law enforcement recognizes that there’s an imminent threat of harm, or the criminal act already occurred and the damage is done.
So if you get that call from the debt collector, and they threaten jail time or arrest if you don’t pay your debt, make a record of it and let them know they’ve violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.