What Debt Collectors Can’t Do…#4

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.

5 Examples of FDCPA Violations

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is a federal law that’s been on the books since 1977. Congress recognized that debt or bill collectors were using abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection practices that overwhelmingly hurt American consumers. As a way to balance the scales against the debt collectors, the FDCPA allows consumers to bring a federal lawsuit against bill/debt collectors for any violation of the FDCPA.

 

So what counts as a violation of the FDCPA? Here are five examples:

 

  1. Talking to anyone except you, or in limited circumstances, your spouse, about a debt they are trying to collect.
  2. Using profanity, yelling, name calling, or any other speech which is disrespectful or undignified.
  3. Threatening to notify your employer, your neighbors, or any third person about the debt they are trying to collect.
  4. Telling a consumer that a refusal to pay a debt could result in arrest or criminal charges being brought against them.
  5. A debt collector can not call you at your place of employment if you have told them that you are not allowed to take such calls at your work or to stop calling you at your place of work.

 

Any one of those examples I gave is enough to file a federal lawsuit against the debt collector and sue for statutory damages. And more importantly, if you filed a lawsuit, would be the first step in ending those harassing phone calls.
There are plenty of other examples that I can discuss in future posts. What seems to be more important is that people – consumers – get educated on these laws and their rights under the law.