During tough economic times, it is not unusual for people to fall behind on credit card payments, personal loans, or other forms of debt. When you fall behind on those monthly payment to creditors, you are said to be “in arrears” and may be contacted by a debt or bill collector.
Getting contacted by a debt collector is embarrassing enough, but getting harassed or threatened with arrest or property seizure is downright frightening. If you are behind in making your monthly payments and are now being harassed by a debt collector, you should familiarize yourself with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. While this law doesn’t get rid of any legitimate debt that you owe to someone else, it does mean that debt collectors must treat you fairly when attempting to collect on the debt, and are prohibited from intimidating you through the use of “scare tactics” or other types of harassment.
What a debt collector can’t do
Back in college, I was once harassed by a debt collector who threatened to take my car in order to satisfy a $200 charge card debt. At the time, I didn’t realize that this practice was illegal, and ended up selling many of my personal possessions in order to pay this bill. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that these kinds of threats are in violation of the law. So what does the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act say? In summary:
Debt collectors can not threaten to seize your property or paycheck, unless the creditor intend to do so and has a court order allowing him to do so.
Debt collectors can not threaten you with arrest, nor threaten you with a lawsuit if they don’t intend to do so.
Debt collectors may also not make false or misleading statements. Example of misleading statements are claims that they work for the credit bureau, are attorneys or government agents, that you’ve committed a crime, or claiming that certain documents are legal when they aren’t or visa versa.
Debt collectors may also not harass you, nor any other third parties they contact, such as your relatives and close friends. Harassment includes threats of bodily harm, swear words, and making frequent annoying phone calls.
Debt collectors also can not call you or your relatives at all hours of the day and night, nor harass you at work when they’ve been explicitly told not to.
Where to report a Harassing Debt Collector
If you are having problems with a debt collector who continues to harass you or employs scare tactics and threats of seizure, you can contact your state Attorney General’s office who will help you determine your rights.
To learn more about Fair Debt Collection, visit the website of the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov. They have several publications that cover common questions that consumers may have about debt collection practices, and is a “must have” resource for anyone who is behind on his monthly payments and is being threatened by a collection agency.