Receiving a call or letter from a debt collector can be frightening for individuals who are already stressed and financially burdened by medical, student loan or credit card debt. To add to this anxiety, some debt collectors engage in strategies that are not only unorthodox, but in some cases, illegal. It's important to understand that regardless of how much debt individuals hold, they have rights and can fight criminal debt collection tactics.
Debt collectors are within their rights to contact consumers whose accounts are in collections. However, they are not allowed to make threats, harass them before or after business hours or divulge personal debt information to friends and family members. Oftentimes, however, these are the types of prohibited strategies some collectors use to intimidate borrowers. For example, some collectors may use vulgar language or threaten consumers with jail time or even violence if they don't pay their balance, according to U.S. News and World Report. In other instances, collectors may not be truthful about the amount actually owed or where the loan originated. Lastly, collection agencies sometimes try to collect past due amounts after the statute of limitations is already up.
Consumers who feel that they are being harassed by collections can take a number of steps to gain control of the situation and put an end to these practices. First and foremost, debt collectors are required by law to answer all consumer questions and provide proof and documentation of the debt they owe. Second, consumers should consider recording all phone calls from debt collectors, which may discourage them from engaging in illegal collection practices. However, some states require the consent of the collector to be recorded, so individuals should always ask permission before recording the call.
Further, consumers have rights when it comes to how they are contacted. If an individual requests that a debt collector only contacts them in writing and not by phone, the collection agency must comply by law. In instances when the consumer has hired a third party to represent them, they may also request that collection agencies only contact their attorney to discuss the financial matter.
Lastly, if collection agencies continue to harass individuals again at any point during the process, consumers should report them to the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.