Home > Managing Debt > 6 Ways a Debt Collector Could Be Breaking the Law

Comments 791 Comments
Advertiser Disclosure


A strong federal law, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, protects consumers against certain unfair collection practices. It applies only to outside, or third-party debt collectors (not creditors collecting their own debts) and only for personal (not business) debts. State laws may provide additional protection.

In its 2018 annual report to Congress about debt collection complaints, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau described collection complaints received by the Federal Trade Commission.

    Call now for a FREE consultation
    CALL 844-639-6956

    In 2018, the FTC received 84,500 complaints about debt collectors — down from 88,000 in 2017. A complaint does not mean a law has been broken, and some complaints may be the result of overseas debt collection scammers who harass consumers.

    A collection account can have a major credit score impact. If you’ve been contacted by a collector and are worried your credit is being hurt, you can check two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.

    1. Attempts to Collect a Debt Not Owed

    Percentage of complaints: 39%

    The law: If you don’t think the debt belongs to you, you can send a request in writing within 30 days of receiving the initial notice that you want verification of the debt. You can also request in writing that the debt collector no longer contact you.

    1. Written Notification About Debt

    Percentage of complaints: 22%

    The law: Within five days of initially contacting you, the collector must send written notice of the debt that includes:

    • The amount of the debt
    • The name of the original creditor to whom the debt is owed
    • A statement describing your right to dispute the debt
    1. Communication Tactics

    Percentage of complaints: 13%

    The law: Collectors can’t call repeatedly just to harass you. (However, there is no specific number of calls that they can make within a given time period. That’s left up to the courts to decide.) If you think a debt collector is calling too often, start making a record of every time they call and any messages they leave. Collectors also may not call before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. (unless you’ve permitted them to do so), or at times you’ve told them are inconvenient.

    1. Took or Threatened to Take Negative or Legal Action

    Percentage of complaints: 11%

    The law: Collectors can’t threaten a lawsuit, criminal prosecution, wage garnishment, jail time, or to ruin your credit rating unless they have the legal authority to do so and intend to do so. These threats are often illegal. Collectors must usually take you to court first and win before they can take these kinds of actions — if they are legal in the first place.

    1. False Statements or Representations

    Percentage of complaints: 10%

    The law: Collectors can’t threaten a lawsuit, criminal prosecution, wage garnishment, jail time, or to ruin your credit rating unless they have the legal authority to do so and intend to do so. These threats are often illegal. Collectors must usually take you to court first and win before they can take these kinds of actions — if they are legal in the first place.

    1. Threatened to Contact Someone or Share Information Improperly

    Percentage of complaints: 4%

    The law: Collectors can call third parties such as family, neighbors, friends or co-workers only to locate the debtor. When they do, they can’t reveal the debt, and there are limits on repeated calls.

    Debt Collection Laws

    The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA) is a federal law in place to place limitations on what debt collectors can do and say when attempting to collect a debt. This federal law covers a variety of instances including mortgages, credit cards, medical debts, and any other debt for personal, family, or household purposes.

    Unfortunately, the debt that the FDCPA cannot cover is business debt or debt that is owed to the original creditor, rather than the collection agency.

    As stated above, time and place, harassment, and representation are all factored in with these federal laws. A debt collector cannot contact you in an unusual place or at an unusual time that they would know is inconvenient.

    They are required to refrain from using any type of harassment methods or scare tactics as well in regard to the debt that may be owed. Additionally, if they are aware that you have sought legal representation for the matter, then they must immediately stop communication with you directly and instead, they need to be contacting the attorney.

    The Fair Credit Reporting Act

    Another federal law is the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and this act covers certain financial aspects including any debt being collected and reported on your credit report.

    Under this law, it protects unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices to be done by either collection agencies or a creditor. There are also state laws that are in place regarding debt collection practices, and many of these state laws are very similar to those as outlined by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

    To learn more and gain more information about the specific debt collection laws in your state, you can contact the state attorney’s general office with any questions you may have.

    How to Get Help

    If you think a debt collector or collection agency has broken the law while trying to collect a debt, you can:

    • Complain to the CFPB and your state attorney general, and/or
    • Contact a consumer law attorney. You may be entitled to damages and/or attorney’s fees.

    Whenever you’re dealing with debt, it’s smart to review your credit reports for accuracy, as errors can unnecessarily damage your credit standing. You can learn more about how to dispute credit report errors here.


    Image: DragonImages 

    Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

    Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

    Credit.com receives compensation for the financial products and services advertised on this site if our users apply for and sign up for any of them.

    Hello, Reader!

    Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

    Our People

    The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

    Our Reporting

    We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

    The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

    In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

    Our Business Model

    Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

    Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

    Your Stories

    Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

    Thanks for stopping by.

    - The Credit.com Editorial Team