Creditor Abuse

Here's what to do if a bill collector uses abusive tactics.

In order to deal with debt collectors, it pays to learn what they can and cannot do. Although most bill collectors are careful to follow the law when contacting you, some are not. If a bill collector goes too far, you can take action.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, or FDCPA (15 U.S.C. § 1692 and following), prohibits debt collectors from engaging in abusive behavior.

The FDCPA covers debt collectors who work for collection agencies. It does not cover debt collectors that are employed by the original creditor (the business or person who first extended you credit or loaned you money).

If a debt collector that works for a collection agency breaks the law, you can take steps to make sure it doesn't happen again.

What Debt Collectors Can't Do

Debt collectors from collection agencies cannot do any of the following:

  • Call you repeatedly or contact you at an unreasonable time (the law presumes that before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. is unreasonable).
  • Place telephone calls to you without identifying themselves as bill collectors.
  • Contact you at work if your employer prohibits it.
  • Use obscene or profane language.
  • Use or threaten to use violence.
  • Claim you owe more than you do.
  • Claim to be attorneys if they're not.
  • Claim that you'll be imprisoned or your property will be seized.
  • Send you a paper that resembles a legal document.
  • Add unauthorized interest, fees or charges.
  • Contact third parties, other than your attorney, a credit reporting bureau, or the original creditor, except for the limited purpose of finding information about your whereabouts. Unless you have asked collectors in writing to stop contacting you, they can also contact your spouse, your parents (if you are a minor) and your co-debtors.

Bankruptcy can stop creditor harassment, but if the "harassment" is simply phone calls and letters, there are simpler ways to stop it. If the harassment is more serious - for instance, if the creditor is about to repossess your car or foreclose on your mortgage - bankruptcy can help.

Get the basics on bankruptcy and learn about its benefits.