The FDCPA sets standards for collection efforts: “A debt collector may not engage in any conduct the natural consequence of which is to harass, oppress, or abuse any person in connection with the collection of a debt.”
The law gives 50 examples of what “harass, oppress, or abuse” mean, including:
- Using threat, violence, or other criminal means to harm a person, reputation, or property
- Using obscene or profane language
- Falsely claiming to represent a government agency such as the police or FBI
- Falsely implying that they are attorneys when they are not
- Lying about the amount owed or the legal status of a debt
- Implying that not paying the debt get you arrested or land you in jail
- Ringing your phone repeatedly to annoy, abuse, or harass you
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulates the debt collection industry and fields complaints about abuses. The more recent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), created in 2010 in response to the Great Recession, also fields complaints and follows up with investigative and enforcement activities.
Getting the Phone Calls to Stop
A bill collector under the FDCPA may use phone calls, regular mail, text messages, and emails to contact you. The allowable hours for phone calls are between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. every day of the week.
If you want the phone calls to stop, you can work with an attorney to send a cease-and-desist letter to the collection agency. In response, they can contact you again only under two circumstances: to acknowledge receipt and compliance, and/or to let you know they intend to take further action against you, such as filing a lawsuit for the collection of money owed.
If the collector calls you at work, you can inform them that your employer does not allow personal calls. If you do so, they cannot call you again. They also cannot contact your employer directly and identify themselves as debt collectors or inform your employer that you have an unpaid debt obligation. They can only inquire about contact information.
If the debt collector has won a judgment against you in court and the judgment includes garnishment of your wages, the collector can in that case contact your employer. Your employer, in turn, cannot terminate you for one garnishment but can for multiple garnishments.
The Mississippi Consumer
Collection Practices Act
Mississippi in 2005 passed its Consumer Collection Practices Act as an adjunct to the FDCPA. Its text specifically notes that if there is any discrepancy between the two acts, “the provision which is more protective of the consumer or debtor shall prevail.”
The act requires any entity operating as a debt collection agency in Mississippi, regardless of where it is domiciled (in-state or out), to register with the state. The statute also mirrors the prohibitions against abuse and deceptive practices by bill collectors as contained in the FDCPA, barring “unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive trade practices or acts in the conduct of any trade or commerce,” including misrepresentations of goods and services, false advertising, “bait-and-switch” pricing schemes, and more.
As a result of the legislation, an Office of Consumer Protection within the Office of the Attorney General was created to field complaints from consumers and assign those complaints when necessary to appropriate state regulatory and enforcement agencies.
How You Can Take Action
If you feel you’ve been abused by a bill collector, you should first file complaints with all relevant agencies, federal and state – the FTC, the CFPB, and the Mississippi Office of Consumer Protection. A lawsuit may be possible if you’ve suffered economic damages, such as lost wages at work. You can also sue for noneconomic damages based on harassment and other abuses, but your compensation is limited to $1,000.
To get rid of onerous debt, you may consider filing for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 of the federal bankruptcy code. As soon as you file, the bankruptcy court will issue what is called an “automatic stay,” which prohibits further actions by creditors and bill collectors, including repossessions and foreclosures (though creditors can seek relief from the latter).
The Ware Law Firm, PLLC Is Here To Help
If you’re being overwhelmed by the efforts of debt collectors and need relief, both the federal government and Mississippi provide means for registering complaints. Doing so, however, is a long, drawn-out process, and you can’t expect immediate relief. While they investigate, you are still free to undertake legal and other actions with the help of your attorney.
You can contact the collectors on your own to get them to quit calling, but that may just induce them to sue you and get it over with. Your best bet is to involve an experienced and knowledgeable attorney with the resources to stop the harassment and get your debt under control. Your attorney can review your finances and advise you of options, including bankruptcy.