What is debt collector harassment and how can it be stopped?

Harassment by debt collectors is illegal, but it is important to understand what harassment is under the law and how to stop it.

Knowing one's legal rights is the first step to ending creditor harassment

Having debts and unpaid bills is a stressful situation that millions of Americans find themselves in everyday. One of the worst aspects to being in debt is dealing with phone calls from collectors. As CBS News points out, it is important for people who are being contacted by debt collectors to know what their rights are. Federal law stipulates what debt collectors can and cannot do in their interactions with consumers and companies that violate the law expose themselves to potential lawsuits. For consumers, the most important step to stopping creditor harassment is first knowing what their legal rights are when dealing with a collection agency.

What is creditor harassment?

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) provides legal protections that are designed to define and prevent creditor harassment. Broadly speaking, the FDCPA prohibits collectors from harassing, abusing, or oppressing consumers who may owe money.

Of course, harassment, abuse, and oppression are relatively subjective terms, so it is helpful to learn some specific examples of what collectors can and cannot do. First, debt collectors cannot lie or misrepresent themselves. For example, they cannot threaten a person with arrest, claim to be a credit reporting agency, or send documents that look as though they are coming from a government agency. Collectors are also only allowed to call a person's home between 8 am and 9 pm and they cannot talk to a debtor's friends, family, or acquaintances about his or her debts. Collectors must also always treat debtors with respect, meaning profanity and threats of violence are strictly prohibited.

How to stop harassment

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau points out that collection agencies that violate the FDCPA may be subject to lawsuits and may be forced to pay damages and legal fees for harassing a consumer. Record keeping is often the key to stopping abuse. All correspondence received from a collector should be saved and kept in a secure place. For phone conversations, it is also important to keep a log of every time a collector has made contact and to write down information about times, dates, and the matter discussed during each call.

It is important to note, however, that the FDCPA does not forbid collectors from contacting consumers who owe debts; it merely prevents them from harassing such consumers. Often, the only way to outright stop phone calls and letters from collectors is by filing for bankruptcy. While bankruptcy is a major step that should only be taken in certain circumstances, it can often put an end to stressful phone calls from creditors.

Bankruptcy law

Understanding what bankruptcy entails, however, requires talking to an experienced bankruptcy attorney beforehand. The right attorney can clarify what the steps are both before and after declaring bankruptcy. In some situations, bankruptcy may be the best solution to not only stopping unwanted phone calls from creditors, but also getting back on one's financial feet.

Keywords: debt collector, harassment, bankruptcy