Harassing & Abusive Practices

Debt collectors cannot use harassing, abusive, misleading, false, or unfair methods to collect debts. Harassing and abusive practices include:

  • Using or threatening to use violence or other criminal means to harm your physical person, reputation, or property;
  • Using obscene, profane, or other language that abuses you;
  • Advertising a debt for sale to coerce payment;
  • Annoying, abusing, or harassing you by repeatedly calling your telephone number or allowing your telephone to ring continually;
  • Making telephone calls without properly identifying who is calling, except as allowed to obtain location information;
  • Calling you early in the morning or late at night;
  • Contacting you after receiving written notice that you do not want further contact;
  • Publishing your name on a “bad debt” list (however, this does not prohibit the debt collector from reporting your debt to a credit reporting agency).

Deceptive or Misleading Practices

Deceptive or misleading practices include:

  • Lying about the identity of who is calling in order to get you on the phone;
  • Threatening you with arrest or legal action that is not legal or intended;
  • Revealing your debts to third parties;
  • Falsely representing or implying an affiliation with the United States or any state, including the use of any badge, uniform, or similar identification;
  • Falsely representing or implying that the person calling is an attorney or that communications are from an attorney;
  • Falsely representing or implying that nonpayment of any debt will result in arrest, imprisonment, or the seizure, garnishment, attachment, or sale of your property or wages, unless such action is lawful and intended by the debt collector or creditor;
  • Falsely representing or implying that you committed a crime or other conduct to disgrace you;
  • Using any false representation or deceptive means to collect or attempt to collect a debt, or to obtain information about you;
  • Falsely representing or implying that documents are legal process;
  • Falsely representing or implying that documents are not legal-process forms or do not require action by you;
  • Falsely representing or implying that the debt collector operates or is employed by a consumer reporting agency.

Unfair Practices

Unfair practices include:

  • Collecting any interest, fee, charge, or expense incidental to the principal obligation, unless it was authorized by the original debt agreement or is otherwise permitted by law;
  • Accepting a check that is postdated by more than five days, unless the debt collector notifies you, in writing, of any intention to deposit the check or instrument;
  • Getting you to provide a postdated check to use as a threat or to institute criminal prosecution;
  • Depositing or threatening to deposit a postdated check before the date on the check;
  • Causing communication charges, such as charges for collect telephone calls, to be made by concealing the true purpose of the communication;
  • Taking or threatening to repossess or disable property when the creditor has no enforceable right to the property or does not intend to do so, or if, under law, the property may not be taken, repossessed, or disabled;
  • Using a postcard to contact you about a debt.

If a debt collector is engaging in any of the above abusive or deceptive practices, you should report the unlawful behavior immediately to the state Attorney General’s office and the Federal Trade Commission. If a debt collector violates the FDCPA or a state debt collection statute, you may also sue the debt collector and recover damages and penalties. A debt collector who fails to comply with any provision of the FDCPA is liable for any actual damages caused by the violation and punitive damages of up to $1,000, plus attorney fees.

If you do decide to sue the debt collector, you must do so within one year from the date the statute was violated. The debt collector will not be liable for a violation if it can show that the violation was not intentional and was the result of a legitimate error that arose despite procedures reasonably designed to avoid any such error.

Legal Editors: C. Jaye Berger and Richard Klass, September 2015

Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.

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