Home > Managing Debt > 12 Times You Can Sue a Debt Collector

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It’s every consumer’s worst nightmare: You’re busy at work, mired in debt, and your cellphone keeps ringing. You’re doing your best to pay off that bill, but the unknown number flashing on your phone’s screen is a dismal reminder you haven’t.

“Most people want to pay their debt, they just run into bad situations where they can’t,” Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education for Credit.com, says. “If a debt collector will work with them, a lot of times, they’ll resolve the debt.”

But not every debt collector plays by the rules, and luckily there are protections in place that allow consumers to fight back if a debt collector has run afoul of the law. Here are 12 times when consumers can sue.

1. Calling Early & Calling Late

A debt collector may not call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. The time frame may sound arbitrary, but think about it: This is when you’re away from work, at home with family, or resting in bed. When a debt collector calls at a time that is known to be inconvenient, David Menditto, director of litigation for Lifetime Debt Solutions, a law firm in Chicago, says, that’s a violation of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).

2. Calling at Other Inconvenient Times

If you’ve told the collector not to call at a certain time, even if it’s when you take a nap, Detweiler says, that’s another violation of the FDCPA. “If you were to tell the collector, I work nights, so don’t call me then, they can’t,” she says. Consumers can set the parameters.

3. Discussing Debt With Third Parties

“If a debt collector calls your mother and says, ‘Hi, we’re looking for John, he owes us money. How do we get in touch?’” that’s yet another violation of the FDCPA, Menditto tells Credit.com. “They can call, ask to speak with John, and ask whether this is a good number to reach him at, but they can’t be discussing the debt,” he says. Collectors are allowed to contact a debtor’s spouse, however.

If people you know are getting calls about a debt you may owe, it’s a good time to check your credit reports to see if there are delinquent accounts or collection accounts listed. You can get your credit reports for free once a year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies, and you can get a free credit report summary every month on Credit.com, to look for any issues. There are debt collection scammers out there, so checking your credit is a way of verifying that the call is legitimate.

4. When a Lawyer’s Involved

If a collector calls even though he or she knows that you’ve hired an attorney, that’s a violation of the FDCPA, Menditto says. The reason: The consumer may intend to file for bankruptcy and they’ve probably told the collector to stop contacting them. “We’ve had clients who claimed they told the debt collector to stop calling, and they didn’t,” Menditto says. “Then they got an attorney and said, ‘Talk to him,’ and the collector kept calling and the collection got violated there.”

5. Making False Threats

Some collectors threaten to take action without really meaning it. For instance, they might say, “If you don’t pay in the next five days, we’re going to sue you,” Menditto says. If they keep making threats and don’t follow through, that’s a sure sign they’ve violated the FDCPA and you can sue.

6. Calling the Wrong Party

When a collector continues harassing you even though he’s got the wrong number, that’s grounds for a lawsuit, Menditto says. Typically, the collector thinks the person is lying about their identity, so they keep calling in the hopes the debtor will come clean.

7. Using Pre-Recorded or Automated Voice Calls

Robocalls aren’t just annoying, they’re flat-out illegal, Menditto says, citing the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which regulates what’s known as automated calls. “The TCPA prohibits any company, not just a debt collector, from calling you on your cellphone using an automated telephone system or pre-recorded voice without your express consent,” he says. “We typically, in the majority of cases, get relief because the debt collector knows they did it.”

8. Using Automatic Phone Dialing Systems

Yes, there are machines that exist to solely crank out numerous phone calls. Known as a predictive dialer or ATDS, these telephone systems dial numbers one after another, and may contact consumers up to five times a day. They’re illegal under the TCPA and can net consumers who sue anywhere between $500 and $1,500 per call, as part of the damages.

9. Misrepresenting the Nature of the Debt

Though this tactic may work for collectors, it’s illegal to misrepresent the nature of the debt, Detweiler says, citing the FDCPA. A collector can’t pressure family members to pay a deceased relative’s debt because they’re responsible (which they aren’t, unless they were co-signers or joint account holders on the debt) or because they have a “moral obligation.” The law has severe penalties for these kinds of collectors, so those who are being harassed should contact a lawyer.

10. Threatening Violence

Has the collector threatened violence? That’s a violation of the FDCPA. “It can get pretty ugly if a collector is crossing the line,” Detweiler says, and “the ones who do create a lot of stress and anxiety that leads consumers to make a bad financial decision.”

11. Using Profanity

Fortunately, the FDCPA protects debtors from verbal abuse such as the use of obscene or profane language. If it’s meant to cause harm to the hearer or reader, it’s grounds for a lawsuit, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

12. False Representation

If a collector doesn’t state who they are to the consumer, be it in writing or over the phone, that’s yet another violation of the FDCPA, according to the FTC’s website. A collector must disclose to the consumer that they’re attempting to collect a debt and that any information obtained will be used for that purpose.

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  • Tia

    I have three to four collectors calling me day and night. I’ve had a few calls after 10PM, a few calls at 7AM and they call back to back, literally. If I hit the dismiss button, they call right back. They have even gone so far to go to have another company call and, once I answer the phone, they transfer me to the actual collector. They’ve called during interviews and doctors appointments and even when I’m caring for children. I don’t even look at who’s calling anymore because it’s the same numbers continuously. I’ve asked them several times to stop calling, told them that I’m seeking work and I’d be sure to call them when I can make the payments and was told that I can do so yet they continuously call……. Like Right Now!

  • Geoff

    How about if the debtor has a bankruptcy attorney, give their contact information to the collector.. ” I am filing bankruptcy but I refuse to give you any information” Leaves the collector with no ability to suspend the file. This happens more times than imaginable. You paid to file bankruptcy, get your money’s worth. Collectors work on commission usually, they are more than happy to move on to accounts that are collectible.

    • Cher Ann

      Right like that would stop them!!!

  • http://www.kennethballard.com Kenneth

    One thing that really also needs to be emphasized, as I’ve seen a lot of people who seem to believe this (and try to bank on it, likely): no violation of the FDCPA affects a debt collector’s legal ability to collect the debt, nor does it nullify your obligation to pay it.

    As with with all torts there are limitations to your ability to sue a debt collector that are grounded in the common law. With several of the above items, one violation may not be grounds for a lawsuit, but that will depend on the violation and its egregiousness.

    For example if there is one morning where a debt collector calls you at 7:45am and leaves a voice mail, but never does that again, that is not grounds for a lawsuit. If they notice your local time, acknowledge the error over the phone and discontinue the call, that is not grounds for a lawsuit.

    Now if they call at 12:45am, that may be grounds to sue. But if that only happened once, probably not — one could ask why a debt collector would be trying to call at 12:45am, but bear in mind that 12:45am in New York is still 7:45pm in Hawaii.

    Common law allows for “honest mistakes” and generally does not permit lawsuits to continue if the person is suing over what could be demonstrated to be an honest mistake, technical glitch, or something like that, especially if the “honest mistake” did not result in any demonstrable harm or damage to the person suing. Again, though, whether that applies depends on the nature of the violation in question.

    If you are represented by an attorney, this does not absolutely bar the debt collector from contacting you. From 15 USC § 1692c(a)(2) — emphasis mine:

    if the debt collector knows the consumer is represented by an attorney with respect to such debt and has knowledge of, or can readily ascertain, such attorney’s name and address, unless the attorney fails to respond within a reasonable period of time to a communication from the debt collector or unless the attorney consents to direct communication with the consumer;

    In other words, if they attempt to contact your attorney, but the attorney never responds, they can re-initiate contact with you. Now if they contact you again, they should state they attempted to contact your attorney to no avail, in which case you should fire the attorney and seek one who will actually represent you.

    But at the same time, the attorney can consent to you being contacted by the debt collector — hopefully such consent is in writing or recorded in some other way so as to be presentable as evidence should the debtor sue.

    Pre-recorded calls are not barred in their entirety either. It is not unusual for a debt collector to contact you and have a pre-recorded greeting (which will have something saying the call is about collecting a debt, this call is for [debtor’s name] and to hang up if you are not that person, and other “Miranda”-type things) before your call is passed onto an actual person.

    Now if they are contacting you and you are not the right person, you can tell them to stop contacting you, but in general it must also be in writing or some other verifiable medium (audio recording, provided it is in line with your State’s laws). For example when I was receiving phone calls from debt collectors attempting to contact someone who is not me, I sometimes had the above-mentioned pre-recorded greeting. Since continuing the call after that greeting meant I was stating to them I was the person in question, the debt collector would’ve been right to assume I was actually the person they sought. And if I attempted to say otherwise, they probably would’ve challenged me.

    Instead I looked up the phone number, found the name of the collection agency, and sent them an e-mail — with a letter drafted to send by mail if necessary.

    There are all kinds of other little nuances and duties of common and statutory law that could come into play as well based on the specific circumstances of your case that could make or break an attempt at a lawsuit, so contact with an attorney is certainly warranted if you believe the debt collector has violated the law.

    But, again, to restate: the debt collector’s violation of the law does not affect their ability to collect the debt, nor does it nullify your obligation to it, and they can still exercise other options to collect on the debt, including suing you.

  • Barbara

    what if you and your name have a copyright on them. You have notified the collector not to write anymore or call, can you sue?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      If so the FDCPA does not apply. If it is a personal debt, however, then you don’t need a copyright to protect yourself. You can just tell them not to contact you again and they are not allowed to do so except to acknowledge receipt of your notice or to notify you of legal action they are taking to collect.

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