I got a call from a bill collector this morning, and he said if I don’t pay him all the money I owe by Friday, a warrant will be issued, the sheriff will come to my office, and I’ll be arrested. I’m very scared, but I don’t have the money to pay them. Can they do this? Please help!
Answer: Debt collectors can be malicious and can lie to you.
That statement doesn’t apply across the board to all debt collectors. There are some who play nice, but many do not. Some debt collectors are more concerned with collecting the debt than following the rules, following the law or simply letting you live your life in peace.
You cannot go to jail if you don’t pay a debt, and you cannot be arrested if you don’t pay your bills. You can, however, be arrested for failure to pay child support or failure to appear for a court-ordered subpoena. This includes subpoenas for “Debtors Exams,” tax issues, etc. If someone is saying you’re going to be arrested, please call an attorney immediately.
I know calls like the one you received are scary. Debt collectors (and even scammers) rely on fear to take your money. It’s important to know that calls like this are illegal, and the penalties collectors face when they don’t adhere to the law are stiff.
What are my rights?
To curb improper and abusive debt-collection tactics, the Federal Trade Commission created the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) in 1977. Though it has been amended through the years, the act maps out guidelines for acceptable practices and legal consequences should those guidelines be violated.
For anyone dealing with debt, being familiar with FDCPA rules and knowing your rights as a consumer can be beneficial.
What debt collectors are REQUIRED to do
• When communicating with you directly, a debt collector first must inform you that he or she is trying to collect a debt and that any information obtained from you will be used for that purpose.
• During any conversation, the collector must provide his or her name and the name of the collection agency.
• The collector must truthfully represent the amount of debt owed, the amount he or she is collecting and any potential consequences if you do not pay the debt.
What debt collectors are ALLOWED to do
• Contact the original creditor, the credit-reporting agency or agencies and your attorney, if you have one. He or she also may contact a spouse, a parent if you are a minor, and any co-debtors.
• Contact third parties to determine your whereabouts, though the collector is only able to ask certain and limiting questions when doing so.
• Contact you as needed via mail, via telephone and/or in person, as long as the contact is not abusive, harassing or intentionally excessive.
What are debt collectors PROHIBITED from doing?
• Engaging in abusive, oppressive or harassing behavior
• Using threats of violence or threatening to harm you or another person’s reputation and/or property
• Using obscene or abusive language
• Publishing your name as a person who does not pay his or her bills (with some limitations)
• Listing your debt for sale to the public
• Calling repeatedly and/or excessively with the intent to annoy, abuse or harass you
• Calling without identifying himself or herself as a debt collector
• Contacting you at unusual or inconvenient times, such as before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
• Contacting you at a place known to be inconvenient for you, such as work, the doctor’s office, your child’s school, etc.
• Calling you at work if your employer prohibits you from receiving collection calls
• Contacting you directly if the debt collector knows or should know that you have an attorney
• Making false representations, such as claiming to be law enforcement or claiming you will be imprisoned (something that legally can happen only under very rare circumstances, such as with failure to pay child support)
• Engaging in unfair or outrageous methods to collect the debt, such as adding interest, fees or charges that are not included in the original agreement or authorized by law
• Communicating with you via postcard or putting information on the outside of an envelope indicating that the letter is part of an effort to collect debt
How to gather evidence against a debt collector
When dealing with a debt collector, be sure to save all written correspondence (including the envelopes) and keep a log of any phone calls made, noting the date, the time and what was said. Do not record the call unless they’ve told you they’re also recording it. Generally speaking, recording a call without permission from both parties is illegal in Nevada.
It’s important to keep records of every action taken — regardless of whether or not you believe the FDCPA was violated — whenever you find yourself in trouble with debt. That way, if there is wrongdoing, you’ll be prepared to confront it.
Penalties against debt collectors
The FDCPA is clear about damages available to a victim of creditor harassment. Monetary damages are available for:
• Physical distress
• Emotional distress
• Lost-wage recovery
• Wage-garnishment recovery
In addition, statutory damages of up to $1,000 per violation exist, meaning you’ll probably be paid for damages if you’ve been harassed.
The FDCPA also allows victims to recover legal fees for FDCPA violation cases. With proper evidence, FDCPA attorneys will take your case free of charge. They get their fees from the collector, whether or not the case goes to court. So if you’re being harassed by a creditor, it’s in your best interest to contact an FDCPA attorney immediately for further guidance. There’s no cost to you.
Please note: The information in this column is intended for general purposes only and is not to be considered legal or professional advice of any kind. You should seek advice that is specific to your problem before taking or refraining from any action and should not rely on the information in this column.