More and more people these days are dealing with harassment by debt collectors, who are aggressively trying to obtain payment from people of limited financial means due to job loss, illness, or disability. You may have experienced this yourself!

What you may not know, though, is that there is a federal law that protects you from harassment by debt collectors called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. While the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is not a shield against the creditor itself, it does provide remedies against collection agencies and law firms.

There are things that debt collectors can't do. If any of these things happen to you, you might actually be able to turn the tables and sue them! Check it out!

What Debt Collectors Can't Do

Among other things, the law regulates how debt collectors communicate with you. For example, debt collectors:

  • Can't call at an inconvenient time. Typically, this means after 8 am and before 9 pm local time at your location.
  • Can't call you if you advise them that an attorney represents you. Instead, the debt collectors must communicate with your New Jersey debt collection lawyer.
  • Can't call you at your job if they know or have reason to know that your employer prohibits you from receiving such communication. You shouldn't have to tell them more than once.
  • Can't call you if you notify them in writing that you refuse to pay the debt or simply want them to stop calling. However, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, a debt collector could still call to advise you that (1) the debt collector's further efforts are being terminated; (2) the debt collector or creditor may invoke specified remedies which are ordinarily invoked by such debt collector or creditor; or (3) to notify you that the debt collector or creditor intends to invoke a specified remedy.
  • Can't communicate with third parties, except to get contact information, without your prior consent or that of the court. An exception would be communication pursuant to a "post-judgment judicial remedy," such as a bank levy or wage execution. A third party also does not include a spouse.

Debt Collectors Can't Harass You

There are certain behaviors in the course of communication that are considered to be harassment under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. These behaviors include, but are not limited to: 

  • The use or threat of violence or other criminal means to harm your physical person, reputation, or property.
  • The use of obscene or profane language or language, the natural consequence of which is to abuse you.
  • Causing a telephone to ring or engaging you in telephone conversation repeatedly or continuously with intent to annoy, abuse, or harass you. Basically, they can only call once daily if they succeed in getting ahold of you.
  • Call without identifying themselves properly.

Debt Collectors Can't Lie to You

A debt collector may not use any false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with any debt collection. This is where they often get into trouble. This can include the false representation of:

  • The character, amount, or legal status of any debt (e.g., it might be uncollectible because the statute of limitations has passed)
  • Any compensation that may be lawfully received by any debt collector for the collection of a debt (e.g., claims that you have to pay collection fees, attorney's fees, costs, etc.)
  • The representation or implication that nonpayment of any debt will result in your arrest or imprisonment or the seizure, garnishment, attachment, or sale of your property or wages unless such action is lawful and the debt collector or creditor intends to take such action. This is also the case if said actions are imminent when they are not (e.g., if you do not pay by Thursday, we will attach your wages when, in fact, no lawsuit has even begun yet).
  • The threat to take any action that cannot legally be taken or that is not intended to be taken.
  • The false representation or implication that you have committed any crime or other conduct in order to disgrace you.
  • The use of any false representation or deceptive means to collect or attempt to collect any debt or to obtain information concerning you.

What Can Happen to Debt Collectors If They Violate the Law

The penalties for debt collectors who violate any of the provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act can be significant. You can sue to recover actual damages that resulted from the violation (e.g., lost wages where you were fired because of personal calls received at work from the collector), statutory damages of up to $1,000, and court costs and attorney's fees.

The only defense is where the violation was not intentional and resulted from a bona fide error, notwithstanding the maintenance of procedures reasonably adapted to avoid any such error.

So What Do I Do?

Do you want more information on how to fight back against creditor harassment? Then download my free book, The Biggest Secrets Your Creditors Don't Want You to Know. Are you a visual learner rather than a reader? Do you enjoy watching YouTube to learn new things? Then check out my 3-part video series on how creditors use lawsuits in New Jersey to collect debts. Just click here for more information on how to get the links! Become empowered and protect your rights!

But even if you can go after the debt collectors, that does not solve the debt problem itself. If your situation goes beyond one or two creditors, and you are wondering whether you need a solution to a bigger problem, then download my free book, Am I In Too Deep? A Guide to Knowing When You Need to File Bankruptcy in New Jersey to find out if bankruptcy might be the solution.

Steven J. Richardson
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Bankruptcy, Collections, Student Loan, DUI and Traffic Court attorney in Woodbury, NJ.