Being in debt can be a frightening experience. If you have run into financial trouble and can’t make all your regular payments, you will see your unpaid balances pile up and gather interest. Before long, your total debt is so big you don’t see how you will ever pay it off.
That scenario is scary enough by itself, but it gets worse when debt collectors start contacting you, demanding repayment. In the past, this type of contact came mostly in the form of letters and phone calls, but today there are other ways to communicate. Debt collectors may contact you through text messages, email, social media and more.
Some of this debt collector behavior is perfectly legal, but there comes a point when it crosses the line into creditor harassment.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is a federal law that sets limits on how debt collection agencies may contact debtors. Note that the law applies only to debt collection agencies, not to the original creditors.
Among other things, the FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from threatening debtors with violence, property damage or damage to their reputations. It also requires that when they do contact a debtor, they identify themselves truthfully and avoid any misleading information about the debt and their ability to collect it. It also limits where and when debt collectors may contact debtors.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for collection agencies to violate the rules.
Cease and desist
If a debt collector is harassing you, there are ways for you to make them stop. First, when the collector contacts you, request a validation notice. This will tell you who the original creditor is, how much you owe, and the steps you should take if you dispute the amount.
When you have the validation notice in hand, an attorney may help you send a cease-and-desist letter. This will tell the collection agency to refer all its phone calls to your lawyer instead of you.
This type of letter doesn’t end the debt, but it means the collection agency will have to stop harassing you and find another way to collect the money.
If you still owe the money and are unable to pay it, the most reliable way to end creditor harassment is through filing for personal bankruptcy. When you file for protection under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, the court issues an automatic stay which is meant to prevent your creditors from contacting you directly.
The key thing to remember is that you don’t have to deal with harassment from debt collectors by yourself. An attorney with experience in debt relief can advise you about your options.