Because debt collectors only get paid if you make payments towards your debt, they can often resort to ruthless or even illegal tactics to try and get you to cough up some cash. One debt collector in California continually harassed a woman for unpaid funeral expenses, even going so far as threatening to dig up her daughter’s body and hang it from a tree if she didn’t pay up. He also threatened to kill the woman’s dog. Other agencies have been caught having their employees pose as lawyers or as process servers trying to deliver legal papers. They’ve been cited for calling and/or harassing a debtor’s friends, neighbors, or family, or for threatening to throw someone in jail (which they cannot do).
Know your rights: What debt collectors are not allowed to do
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act dictates how debt collectors are allowed to contact you about past due bills. Here are some illegal debt collection tactics that collectors a ARE NOT allowed to do:
1. Threatening arrest if you do not pay your bills
You cannot be arrested for an outstanding debt, and it is illegal for debt collectors to deceive you by threatening you with arrest or jail time. (The only exception to this rule is past-due child support, which is handled by courts and not private collection agencies.)
2. Late night phone calls
Debt collectors are required to call you during “reasonable” hours. Definitions of this may vary from state to state, but generally speaking, calls past 9 p.m. or before 7 a.m. are considered unreasonable.
3. Threatening you with physical harm or illegal activity
Obviously, debt collectors are breaking the law if they threaten you or your family with physical harm, violence, or threats against property. If a debt collector is stupid enough to do this, you should immediately report the incident to the police and try to have them arrested. Anything that would be illegal to do is illegal for a debt collector to threaten.
4. Repeatedly calling after the collector has been told to stop calling
If you ask a debt collector to stop calling you, that person is legally obligated to do so. Continuing to call after being asked to stop could be considered stalking or harassment. Unfortunately, en-forcing this rule is another matter altogether.
5. Making false or misleading statements
Implying that you are responsible for paying a family member’s debt; saying that you’ll be sued for not paying even though the debt is too old to sue over; these type of false and misleading statements are a form of financial fraud.
6. Harassing your employer or other non-involved parties
Most states have laws against calling your employer to harass you about a debt, as well as slandering you by bad-mouthing you as a “deatbeat” to friends and neighbors. Debt collectors are allowed to contact family to try and get a means of reaching you or contact employers to verify employment, but they are not permitted to harass these people or discuss your debt with them.
In general, the bottom feeders of the debt collection world who purchase bulk debt for pennies on the dollar have a reputation for being the most ruthless, and tend to receive the most complaints.Since they are typically dealing with the toughest accounts to collect on and have little to lose, this drives many to engage in unethical or flat-out illegal collection tactics. The current economy may also be making the situation worse, as complaints about debt collectors are on the rise. There were 140,036 official com-plaints made in 2010; more than double the figure from 2006.