As the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on people’s personal finances and employment, some 51 million Americans found themselves accumulating extra debt in their efforts to weather the storm. If you count yourself among them, you may have struggled to repay the debt or even make minimum payments.
After a debt goes unpaid for a certain length of time, you can expect debt collectors to contact you and request payment. However, these debt collectors must adhere to certain rules of conduct. If you feel abused by constant threatening calls, you should understand the following key points about debt collector harassment.
What Debt Collectors Can Legally Do
Debt collectors and creditors have certain rights, just as debtors do. These agents can request payment on an overdue debt via phone, text, or email. If you refuse to respond, they can sell your debt to another organization. Agents for this organization may then pick up with their requests where the previous agent left off.
Even if you feel harassed by what feels like a flood of phone calls and letters, these repeated requests and reminders may fall completely within the debt collector’s legal rights. As a last-ditch attempt to get the money owed, a debt collector may file a lawsuit, possibly resulting in bank levies or wage garnishment.
What Debt Collectors Can’t Legally Do
Although debt collectors may try to reach you on a daily basis if they so choose, they can’t call you any time of the day or night. According to the Federal Trade Commission, these agents can only call you between the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. local time. Calling outside of those hours constitutes debt collector harassment.
Debt collectors can’t use threats, verbal abuse, or other scare tactics to intimidate you into a response, although they may objectively note potential consequences such as legal action to help you understand the seriousness of avoiding payment. Nor can they lie about or misrepresent the facts of your debt situation.
How to Sue for Debt Collector Harassment
If a creditor or debt collection agency has violated the rules of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which protects debtors against harassment, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). These actions may stop illegal collection behaviors.
You can also sue a debt collector for harassment. The simplest option involves taking your case to small claims court. However, Washington D.C. small claims courts limit awards to $10,000. You may also make critical errors in the presentation of your case without the aid of an experienced lawyer.
A lawsuit in state court involves more time, effort, and money than a small claims court suit, but it also offers a great deal more in the way of potential benefits for the plaintiff. In addition to suing for mental anguish, emotional distress, and lost wages caused by the distraction, you may get reimbursed for garnished wages.
On top of these forms of compensation, the FDCPA also allows you to receive an extra $1,000 in statutory damages if you win your debt collector harassment lawsuit in state court. To receive statutory damages, you must prove only that the harassment occurred, not that you suffered any actual harm from it.
How to Prevent Debt Collector Harassment
Bear in mind that victory in a debt collector harassment case doesn’t wipe out or pardon your debt, even if the court rules that the debt collector must stop contacting you about it. Fortunately, you can take measures to help prevent future cases of debt collector harassment from spoiling your quality of life.
Debt collectors will often work with debtors who have fallen into financial difficulties. By reaching out to them proactively, you may find that you can negotiate your interest rates or payment terms. Some organizations may even agree to reduce or forgive the debt. You can also send a letter asking the collector to stop calling you.
Heidarpour Law Firm can help you evaluate your legal options and, if necessary, represent you in a debt collector harassment lawsuit. Contact our office today.