When Debt Collectors Go Too Far, It’s Time to Fight Back

by John Chapman

A debt collector is contacting you. Maybe you’re behind in paying a bill or maybe the collector mistakenly thinks you are. You need to know that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect from you.

A “debt collector” is someone who collects debts owed to others.

Debt collectors include collection agencies, lawyers who collect debts on a regular basis, and companies that buy delinquent debts and then try to collect them.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act applies to personal, family, and household debts. Examples of debts covered by the Act include money you owe on a personal credit card account, an auto loan, a medical bill, and your mortgage.

A debt collector may not contact you at inconvenient times or places

You should not be getting calls from debt collectors early in the morning or late at night. And collectors may not contact you at work if they’re told (orally or in writing) that you’re not allowed to get calls there.

If you tell a collector to leave you alone, they need to leave you alone

If you decide that you don’t want a debt collector to contact you again, you should tell the collector in writing to stop contacting you. Make a copy of your letter. Send the original by certified mail, and pay for a “return receipt” so you’ll be able to document what the collector received.

Once the collector receives your letter, they should not contact you again. If you do owe money, sending such a letter does not get rid of the debt, but it should stop the contact. The creditor or the debt collector still can sue you to collect the debt.

Debt collectors may not harass, oppress, or abuse you or any third parties they contact about your debt

For example, debt collectors may not:

  • use threats of violence or harm
  • publish a list of names of people who refuse to pay their debts (but they can give this information to the credit reporting companies)
  • use obscene or profane language
  • repeatedly use the phone to annoy someone

Debt collectors also are prohibited from saying that:

  • you will be arrested if you don’t pay your debt;
  • they’ll seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or attach your wages unless they are permitted by law to take the action and intend to do so; or
  • legal action will be taken against you, if doing so would be illegal or if they don’t intend to take the action.

Debt collectors may not lie when they are trying to collect a debt

Debt collectors may not:

  • falsely claim that they are attorneys or government representatives
  • falsely claim that you have committed a crime
  • falsely represent that they operate or work for a credit reporting company
  • misrepresent the amount you owe
  • indicate that papers they send you are legal forms if they aren’t
  • indicate that papers they send to you aren’t legal forms if they are

Debt collectors must deal with you honestly

Debt collectors may not:

  • give false credit information about you to anyone, including a credit reporting company;
  • send you anything that looks like an official document from a court or government agency if it isn’t; or
  • use a false company name.

Debt collectors may not engage in unfair practices when they try to collect a debt

Debt collectors may not:

  • try to collect any interest, fee, or other charge on top of the amount you owe unless the contract that created your debt – or your state law – allows the charge
  • deposit a post-dated check early
  • take or threaten to take your property unless it can be done legally
  • contact you by postcard

You have the right to sue a debt collector that violates the law

You have the right to sue a debt collector in state or federal court within one year from the date the law was violated. If you win, the judge can require the collector to pay you for any damages you can prove you suffered because of the illegal collection practices like lost wages and medical bills. The judge can require the debt collector to pay you up to $1,000, even if you can’t prove that you suffered actual damages.

You also can be reimbursed for your attorney’s fees and court costs. A group of people also may sue a debt collector as part of a class action lawsuit and recover money for damages up to $500,000 or one percent of the collector’s net worth, whichever amount is lower.

If you think a debt collector has violated the law, please contact us today for a free consultation to learn more about your legal rights and options.

At Heygood, Orr & Pearson, our success stems from the fact that our attorneys are trial attorneys in the truest sense and have tried hundreds of cases to verdict. Among our team are numerous attorneys who are board certified* and who have been voted by their peers as Super Lawyers in the state of Texas for several years in a row.** Our firm is AV-rated, the highest legal and ethical rating available from the leading law firm rating service.

Heygood, Orr & Pearson has the legal ability, financial wherewithal and level of commitment necessary to successfully pursue your claim under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. If you are in need of representation, contact us for a free consultation by calling toll-free at 1-877-445-9001 or by filling out our free online contact form.


Michael Heygood, James Craig Orr, Jr. and Eric Pearson are all Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law — Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

** Michael Heygood, James Craig Orr, Jr. and Eric Pearson were selected to the Super Lawyers List, a Thomson Reuters publication, for the years 2003 through 2012.

by John Chapman

John Chapman is a licensed attorney with experience in complex commercial litigation (including securities fraud, RICO, shareholder oppression, and derivative actions) and personal injury litigation.