What Is Considered Harassment by a Creditor?
Debt collectors are not allowed to harass anyone. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act—codified as 15 U.S.C. § 1692 –1692p—protects consumers from unfair or abusive debt collection practices. 15 U.S. Code § 1692d outlines the behaviors debt collectors are prohibited from engaging in.
What are debt collectors not allowed to do in their communication?
- Use obscene or threatening language
- Threaten violence or other criminal acts against any person or property
- Make misleading claims regarding the status or amount of debt owed
- Falsely represent themselves as a government agent
- Call people repeatedly within a short period or outside of appropriate business hours
- Ignore your wishes in terms of appropriate times and methods of contact (i.e. through your attorney or via mail)
Failure to adhere to these standards can result in lawsuits and/or penalties from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which we discuss later in this blog.
How Do You Stop a Creditor from Harassing You?
If you file for bankruptcy, creditors should stop contacting you. Once you file, an automatic stay goes into effect, which tells creditors to stop contacting you about debts.
However, before filing, debt collectors or creditors will likely contact you. What can you do to stop creditor harassment?
- Review any communication from debt collectors. You will want to know why they are contacting you, what debts they are claiming you owe, and/or if they plan to sue.
- Reach out asking them to stop their harassment. You can write a letter to the agency asking them to stop contacting you. Legally, they must adhere to your wishes. If they don’t stop, you can report them to the FTC. Once you report a company, the FTC can look into the allegations. According to the “Debt Collection” resource on the FTC’s website, they have sued over 30 debt collection companies for violating the law, which resulted in the companies being banned from business and required to pay severe fines.
- Keep records of all contact and harassment. You should document all instances of harassment. You can keep a log or may even consider having someone else be present for the phone calls. If you receive permission from the caller, you can also record the conversation.
- Consider suing the debt collection agency for harassment. If creditor harassment persists, you can sue in extreme cases.
- Hire an attorney. An attorney can field calls from debt collection agencies. They can also best advise on how to stop creditors, and if filing for bankruptcy is right for you.
Understanding Your Rights
While you may wish to avoid talking with a debt collector, it isn’t in your best interest to ignore their calls (or communication). When a collector reaches out, you can (and should) ask about the following details:
- Who the collector is. You can ask for their name, phone number, and business address, which you should keep in your records. If you have a complaint about how they treated you or want to follow up, it is important to have these specifics.
- What the debt is related to. You can ask the caller about what the debt is for and when the debt was incurred. This can help you ascertain whether or not this debt is real, which is important for disputes. If you do not owe the debt mentioned, you can use this information to ask the creditor to stop contacting you.
- How much you may owe. You can ask about the amount of debt you may have, including information on interest or collection fees. If they do not provide you with adequate information, you can ask for more.
- Who the original creditor is. This information is also important as it can help you discern if this is a debt you actually owe and when you may have incurred it.
If you have more questions or need more information, you have a right to ask for it. You should ask for more details as soon as possible so that you have time to take action. For help with what to say during this conversation, you can:
- Use the sample letters from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as a starting point
- Ask an attorney for help (with what to say or if they can speak on your behalf)
As a consumer, you also have the right to fair and accurate credit information and certain privacies concerning the information in consumer reporting agencies’ files (see The Fair Credit Report Act (FCRA)). The Act aims to do the following:
- Protect the information collected by consumer reporting agencies, such as credit bureaus and specialty agencies (with information about your medical records, rental history records, etc.)
- Outline clear legal obligations for companies that give information to consumer reporting agencies (such as investigating disputed information)
- Ensure those who use the information for credit, insurance, or employment purposes notify the consumer if the report’s information negatively affects them
Under federal FCRA guidelines, consumers rights and protections are as follows:
- You must be told if details in your file have been used against you. As mentioned, you should be notified if your applications are denied (or any other harmful actions are taken against you) because of consumer reporting agency information.
- You are permitted to know what exactly is in your file. After you provide proper identification (like a Social Security number), agencies must disclose this information. You can get a free disclosure from nationwide credit bureaus and specialty consumer reporting agencies annually.
- You have the right to ask for your credit score. While this information may not always be free, you can ask about your credit score concerning loans or the creation of your score (i.e. what may be affecting it).
- You can dispute inaccurate or incomplete information.
- Employers can only be provided with reports with your consent. If you do not provide written consent, consumer reporting agencies cannot give your information to a potential or current employer.
- You can sue violators in state or federal court. If your FCRA rights are violated, you can pursue damages.
Contact Our Bankruptcy Attorneys
For help stopping creditor harassment, you should reach out to our legal team. We can help clients defend their right to be treated respectfully by creditors. We also help clients whose FCRA rights have been violated, as well as those filing for bankruptcy. Specifically, our debt collection defense lawyers can help clients:
- Take legal action against reporting agencies
- Handle calls from debt collectors
- Understand specific case legalities
- Explore bankruptcy alternatives
- Resolve bankruptcy matters (such as being sued by debt collectors or navigating wage garnishments)
- Consider when it may be best to file for bankruptcy
- File for bankruptcy and avoid common pre- and post-filing mistakes
- Figure out what life after bankruptcy may look like
- And more