Fair Debt Collection Practices Act: Crossing the Line – When Has A Debt Collector Gone Too Far?

© 2014

Article By: Whitney G. Coats, J.D. 

The other day I was sitting in my office and received a phone call from a client of mine who was very shaken and upset about a disturbing phone call she had just received from an individual stating he was an “Investigator with the State”, and threatened that he was on his way to her place of employment to arrest her if she didn’t immediately pay an outstanding debt owed. When my client tried to tell this “Investigator” my name and number, the individual refused to take my information and expressed some offensive words before hanging up the phone. Yes, this is the first sign that it’s highly unlikely this guy was actually an “Investigator working on behalf of the State”. If this legitimately was an investigator working on behalf of the State, the person would have identified himself with more information to that effect, and hung up on my client once she uttered her bankruptcy attorney’s information.

Notwithstanding the fact the above Investigator/Debt Collector, could be in some serious trouble for impersonating an Officer of the State (a bold tactic in and of itself); Debt Collector has also directly violated the allowed parameters for debt collection under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”).  The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act was created to eliminate abusive practices in the collection of consumer debts, to promote fair debt collection, and to provide consumers with an avenue for disputing and obtaining validation of debt information in order to ensure the information’s accuracy. The FDCPA broadly defines a debt collector as “any person who uses any instrumentality of interstate commerce or the mails in any business the principal purpose of which is the collection of any debts, or who regularly collects or attempts to collect, directly or indirectly, debts owed or due or asserted to be owed or due another.” See 15 U.S.C. § 1692(a).

Debt collectors are not permitted to use obscene, profane, or abusive language nor are they permitted to engage in any conduct that is harassing or abusive. See 15 U.S.C. 1692(d)(2) and 15 U.S.C 1692(e). The Investigator/Debt Collector engaged in harassing and abusive tactics when contacting my client at work and using offensive language in a belligerent manner to collect an alleged debt owed by my client.

A debt collector also directly violates the FDCPA when using false, deceptive or other misleading representations. See 15 U.S.C. 1692(e).  The Investigator/Debt Collector directly violated this section of the FDCPA when he made misleading and false threats to my client that he was going to go to her place of employment, arrest her and throw her in jail for non-payment of a civil debt.  There likely has to be some very extenuating circumstances for a person to ever be thrown in jail for failure to pay a civil debt, it’s just not something that can easily be completed, especially by a debt collector.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time a client has called me upset or complaining about a debt collector using harassing and abusive tactics to essentially scare them into making a payment, potentially for a debt they don’t even owe. There are many different reasons why people find themselves in financial hardships, often times for reasons that were out of their control. If you have creditors contacting you at all hours of the day and using all sorts of tactics to contact you, they likely are also directly violating the FDCPA.  There are certain measures you may take to address such violations, which I’ll address in my next article.

If you have a significant amount of debt that you realize you’ll never be able to fully pay, contact my office so we can discuss your financial concerns and discuss what options will work best for you.

Whitney G. Coats, J.D., Of Counsel, is a bankruptcy attorney who works with the Dana Law Firm in its Consumer Bankruptcy Department.

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