Having what seems like an insurmountable amount of debt can be a stressful experience, especially when you have unscrupulous creditors calling day and night harassing and insulting you in an effort to get you to pay. Some may even go as far as threatening you with violence. The good news is that the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act(FDCPA) protects you from these calls by restricting the way in which certain creditors may try to collect their debts. The FDCPA is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission.
For the harassment section of the FDCPA to apply, the debt collector has to be one who is in the business of regular debt collection. In addition, the debt owed cannot be business-related debt and must be personal or family household debt.
What is considered harassing behavior?
The following acts are included in the FDCPA as examples of harassing behavior:
- Repeatedly calling the debtor specifically to abuse or annoy them;
- In some cases, calling the debtor without disclosing the debt collector’s identity;
- Threatening the debtor with physical harm or threatening harm to the debtor’s reputation;
- Using profane language; and
- Listing the debtor’s name in a list of “deadbeat” debtors who don’t pay their bills.
The FDCPA also prohibits debt collectors from contacting you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., and from contacting your employer or other third parties to inform them that you are in default on a debt.
You may pursue legal action against debt collectors that engage in these practices and, under the law, if you are successful, in addition to any damage award you get, you will receive an additional $1,000 in statutory damages and attorneys’ fees.
How do you get creditors to stop calling?
The FDCPA provides that a debt collector is not allowed to further contact a debtor who sends a notice in writing stating that she does not wish to be further contacted, or that she is contesting the debt. Some exceptions to this provision include: if the communication is to tell the debtor that the debt collector will not pursue the debt anymore; or if the communication is meant to advise the debtor that the collector may seek legal remedies against them to collect on the debt.
Therefore, the first step to getting the harassing calls to stop is to write a letter to the debt collectors informing them that you do not wish to be contacted anymore. However, it is important to note that sending this letter does not extinguish any debt that is legitimately owed. The debt collector may simply sue you to collect on your debt.
You can also report any violating debt collectors to your state Attorney General’s office, the Federal Trade Commission, or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
A Last Resort
As a final solution, if your financial situation is such that you qualify to file for bankruptcy, you may consider doing this in order to stop the harassing phone calls. Under bankruptcy law, once you file for bankruptcy, all debt collection efforts are supposed to cease during the pendency of the bankruptcy proceedings.
While this solution may stop the harassment, it also has far-reaching consequences on your credit. Therefore, you should not make the decision to file for bankruptcy lightly and should consider seeking some advice from an experienced bankruptcy attorney. The attorney can help you decide if filing for bankruptcy is right for you.