What Should I Do If a Bill Collector Uses Abusive Tactics?
Here’s what you should do if a bill collector crosses the line in Colorado.
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 legal action to make them stop.
THE FAIR DEBT COLLECTION PRACTICES ACT
The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (or “FDCPA”) prohibits debt collectors from engaging in abusive behavior in Colorado.
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).
In Colorado, 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 in Colorado:
- Call you repeatedly or contact you at unreasonable times (meaning before 8:00 AM or after 9:00 PM);
- Call 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; or
- 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.
What to Do If Debt Collectors Break the Law
Here’s what you can do if debt collectors engage in illegal activity:
Under the FDCPA, you have the right to tell a collection agency employee to stop contacting you. Simply send a letter stating that you want the collection agency to cease all communications with you. All agency employees are then prohibited from contacting you, except to tell you that collection efforts have ended or that the collection agency or original creditor intends to sue you or take advantage of some other legal remedy.
Don’t hide from your debt collectors. You can tell a collector to stop calling even if the collector is not breaking the law. However, many debt counselors feel that, unless you’re judgment proof (that is, broke for the foreseeable future) or truly plan to file for bankruptcy, the best overall advice is not to ignore the debt or try and hide from the debt collector. Usually, the longer you put off resolving the issue, the worse the situation and the consequences will become. Whether you negotiate directly with the collector or obtain a lawyer’s assistance, many counselors feel the best strategy almost always is to speak to the collector.
2. Document Illegal Behavior
If a debt collector breaks the law, document the violation as soon as it happens. Start a log and write down what happened, when it happened, and who witnessed it. Then, try to have another person present (or on the phone) during all future communications with the collector.
In some states, you can record phone conversations without the debt collector’s knowledge. In others, this tactic is illegal. Check with your state consumer protection agency to find out what is permitted where you live.
3. File a Complaint
File a complaint with the FTC. File an official complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the federal agency that oversees collection agencies. Contact the Federal Trade Commission. In your complaint:
- Include the collection agency’s name and address, the name of the collector, the dates and times of the conversations, and the names of any witnesses; and
- Attach copies of all offending materials you received and a copy of any tape you made.
Send a copy of the FTC complaint to the original creditor and the collection agency. The original creditor may be concerned about its own liability and offer to cancel the debt.
Once your complaint is filed, don’t expect immediate results. The FTC may take steps to sanction the agency if it has other complaints on record. Your best hope is that the creditor will offer to cancel the debt.
4. Sue the Debt Collector
If you’ve been subject to abusive behavior and can document it, consider suing the collection agency. But if the illegal behavior was merely annoying, don’t bother. For example, if the collector called three times in one day but never again, you probably don’t have a case.
To sue a debt collector, you can represent yourself in small claims court or hire a lawyer and go to regular court. If you win, you will be entitled to recover the following money damages:
- The amount of any actual financial losses you suffered — for example, therapist fees, if you suffered extreme anxiety as a result of the collector’s actions, or the amount you paid to switch to an unlisted number to avoid their harassment; AND
- Up to $1,000 in statutory damages.