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When Is Creditor Harassment Illegal, and How Can You Stop Harassment?

The following post is part of our Law Student Blog Writing Project, and is authored by Raphael Jackson, a law student from the Chase School of Law.

During the 2016-2017 school year, Colleges and Universities in the U.S. have awarded approximately; 1 million Associates degrees; 3 million Bachelor’s degrees; 790,000 Master’s degrees; and 180,000 PhD’s. According to the most recent statistics from the Federal Reserve there is 1.2 trillion owed in total student loan debt. Of these approximate 3 million graduates, 11% will default in their student loan debts. Even if you have not taken out student loans, chances are you have, at least once in your life, been in communication with debt collection agents.

Losing your job, being involved in an accident, or losing a loved one are some of the many things that can trigger an unexpected loss or income, or an increase in medical bills. Aside from being tragic these unexpected events can ultimately result in the victim falling into debt. If the consumer has defaulted it is important for them to work out any arrangement they can before the debt goes to a collection agency. Once your debt has been sold to a debt collection agency, it will have been handed off to an entirely new group of people. This new group of people have no knowledge or concern about how the debt was accrued. The collection agencies sole purpose is to collect debt in any way they can.

For those who have been contacted by a debt collector, one of the first steps is to: 1) verify the validity of the debt; and 2) verify that the company contacting you legitimately owns the debt.  Unfortunately many consumers feel the stigma that accompanies being in a state of indebtedness. Among the emotions associated with this stigma is a feeling of defeat and vulnerability. While in such a state of vulnerability, many consumers either forget or fail to realize that they are still entitled to protection against consumer harassment. Some debt collectors take advantage of this circumstance by employing improper tactics in their attempt to collect on your debt. Every consumer reserves the right to not be subjected to such improper tactics regardless of their financial circumstance. Many people acquire debt in the aftermath of a tragic life experience. In the aftermath of a tragedy these same people would be most vulnerable to harassment and exploitation. However, it is important for the consumer to realize that one simply does not relinquish their right to be treated with civility simply because they are in a state of indebtedness.

To ensure that debt collectors do not abuse their power, several states have enacted statutes designed to protect the consumer from unscrupulous debt collection practices. Ohio has enacted the Ohio Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Although Kentucky has no similar state counterpart, residents of all states are protected by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).

What Debt Collectors Are Not Allowed To Do

The FDCPA is a document which enumerates what is considered “fair communication” in debt collection. The entire act consists of eighteen sections and several sub clauses. Among the information contained therein is: the definition of what would be considered harassment or abuse; definition of false and misleading information; and a delineation of the legal parameters of debt collection. The following bullet points cover a general understanding of the issues which most commonly affect the consumer as it pertains to what the debt collector isn’t allowed to do.

  • Harass you by phone- If you make it clear to a debt collector that you do not wish to be called by telephone they must respect this wish. Instead of constant phone calls you can request that the debt collectors relegate their correspondence to written communication. Debt collectors should not correspond by means of post card or any other form in which a third party may discover that you are being contacted in reference to a debt.
  • Contact you outside of a normal time frame – For those who do not mind phone correspondence, rest assured that debt collectors are not allowed to contact you between 9:00pm and 8:00am.
  • Target third Parties – Unless expressly authorized by the addressee, debt collectors are not permitted to intentionally contact third parties for the purposes of collecting your debt. This applies to spouses, children, co-workers, or anyone else who may answer the phone.  A second federal law, called the Telephone Consumer Protection Act also prohibits this kind of harassment.
  • Target you at Work – Unless expressly authorized by the addressee, debt collectors are not allowed to contact you at your workplace.
  • Engage in False Representation – Debt collection specialists are not allowed to represent themselves as court officers, law enforcement agents, or attorneys. They are also not permitted to threaten any legal action – or jail time – that they have no intention of following through with.
  • Circumvent your Attorney – Once you are represented by an attorney, or have otherwise referred the debt collector to contact your lawyer, the debt collector is no longer allowed to contact you directly.

What Can You Do If a Debt Collector Is Violating The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act in Kentucky or Ohio?

Among the debt collection workforce are a large number of part time, seasonal, or non-career employees. While there are several reputable legal firms and skilled attorneys that work in the business of Debt Collection, many of the debt collection specialist jobs require no more education beyond a GED and basic computer proficiency.

Thus, the consumer should never assume that all debt collectors are either thoroughly versed in the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, or particularly concerned about adhering to their training guidelines beyond what is required for them to remain employed. That being said, among those employed as debt collectors are students, stay-at-home parents, business owners, and others who have full time careers outside of their debt collection jobs.  Thus it should not be a surprise that many collection specialists are knowledgeable in fee dispute resolution and inclined to working with the consumer in an affable way.

Despite this fact, the consumer should never assume that all specialists will follow all guidelines in the absence of any reminders or specific requests from the consumer. It would therefore be wise to make such requests in writing, preferably with a certified letter.

If all else fails, contact an attorney to stop the harassment. Attorneys that can help with situation generally come in two varieties – those who file bankruptcies, and those who file civil actions under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Either kind of attorney can help stop the harassment. A bankruptcy attorney is typically better for those who actually owe the debt and are no longer able to set up a reasonable budget to pay it back. A civil court, FDCPA lawsuit is better for those who don’t owe the debt, or who have the ability to make payments on it but simply need the creditor or collection agency to stop violating the law. When it pertains to creditor harassment each person has her own unique set of circumstances. By contacting either type of attorney, you can be ensured that the debt collector will cease harassing you; and that your attorney will be able to represent you in court if necessary.

At Lawrence & Associates, we file bankruptcies to stop creditor harassment, and we will bring the creditors to federal court for harassment that occurs after the bankruptcy’s filing. If you are being harassed by a creditor, call one of our attorneys today for a free consultation. We’re Working Hard for the Working Class, and we want to help you!