The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently published its annual report on the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). In this report, the FTC alarmingly highlights a sharp increase in consumer complaints about debt collectors. In 2010, consumers lodged 140,036 complaints against debt collectors; these claims of abuse now account for 27 percent of all those filed with the FTC. These numbers are up from 2009, when 119,609 complaints were filed. In fact, complaints about abusive debt collectors outnumber all other categories of consumer complaints. Debt collectors are increasingly relying on illegal tactics to pressure and intimidate debtors the FTC says, likely due to competitive market factors. Many debtors unfortunately do not realize that debt collectors are strictly prohibited from engaging in abusive, fair, and/or deceptive measures during collection. Sadly, even more complaints are believed to go vastly unreported.
Abusive Tactics of Debt Collector
In 2010, 54,147 consumers reported harassment through repeated or continuous calling. Use of abusive or obscene language during debt collection was reported by 17,532 respondents. Threats of violence were remarkably noted in 4,182 cases despite the decades-old FDCPA prohibitions. Demands for payment on a phantom, nonexistent, or inflated consumer debts were reported by 33,122 people, and 32,477 consumers reported that they never received a written notice explaining their alleged debt as required by the FDCPA. In 27,554 cases, debt collectors threatened consumers with jail time, criminal prosecution, garnishment of wages, and confiscation of personal property. Debt collectors failed to identify themselves on the phone in 24,889 cases, and improperly revealed alleged debt to third parties in 10,761 cases. Continued harassment and debt collection attempts after a cease communication notice were reported by 7,343 debtors.
Debt Collectors Slapped with Million-Dollar Fines
Per a March 2011 agreement order, West Asset Management, Inc. (West Asset) agreed to pay $2.8 million for repeated FDCPA violations. Complaints against West Asset included harassing consumers and revealing debts to unauthorized third parties. During calls to debtors, West Asset employees allegedly posed as members of a fictitious law firm and threatened criminal prosecution and jail time for nonpayment of debts. West Asset also reportedly threatened debtors with wage garnishment and property seizure. Most alarmingly, West Asset was accused of stealing from consumers by charging credit cards or debiting bank accounts without consent.
In a similar case from October 2010, Allied Interstate Inc. was forced to pay $1.75 million for allegedly attempting to collect consumer debts Allied Interstate knew could never be verified. According to the FTC, Allied Interstate employees ignored consumer attempts to dispute debts, even debts that were discharged by bankruptcy and therefore uncollectable. Also alleged was Allied Interstate’s abusive language continuous calling during debt collection. Allied Interstate is one of the largest debt collectors in the US suggesting that its alleged practices are systemic in the industry.
How Can You Combat Abusive Debt Collectors?
If you are being subjected to abusive debt collection tactics, contact a consumer rights attorney. It is illegal for collectors to harass, intimidate, or be unfair to you. Often a simple letter from an attorney will cause an aggressive collector to back off, but you may also be eligible to sue for damages if a debt collector’s attempts at debt collection are especially egregious. A consumer rights attorney experienced in protecting you from the abuse of debt collectors can protect and enforce your valuable consumer rights.
Getting help will prevent you from being one of the above statistics.