How to Fight Abusive Debt Collectors and Win

The recession is abating, and while that’s good news for consumers, for many it’s bringing even more trouble. Debt collectors are out to get you. They’re out to cash in on all that debt you racked up when times were hard, and while no debt collector is cool, some of them are especially awful – so awful, in fact, that what they do is actually illegal. Because consumer advocacy groups say that abusive debt collection practices have been on the rise and since many consumers still aren’t aware of their rights, we thought it’d be a good idea to review the broad federal laws that protect consumers from abusive practices and to remind you of the most important thing you can do to get these guys off your back.

So here’s the gist. Debt collectors can’t curse at you or threaten to harm you. They can’t confiscate your property, have you arrested or call you repeatedly (although the federal government’s definition of that is more than six times per day, which still seems rather excessive to us). Third-party debt collectors can’t claim to be anything other than third-party debt collectors, they can’t discuss your debt with anyone else (such as your employer), and they can’t contact you after you’ve sent them an official cease and desist letter.

While these laws are helpful, state regulations on this issue vary. The laws are a bit lax in some states, and that has opened the door to some seriously weird collection tactics. Collectors have impersonated police officers, and one even threatened to exhume a woman’s dead daughter in order to collect the debt associated with the funeral. Not all cases are this extreme, but that doesn’t mean consumers should put up with the less sensationalistic stuff, either.

Take what’s common practice for debt collectors in Minnesota, for example. Attorney General Lori Swanson told Minnesota Public Radio that debt collectors in the state often win judgments by default when consumers don’t respond to a hearing notice. When this happens, collectors can then garnish wages without the person’s knowledge or consent. What’s worse is that this can happen whether or not the person actually owes the debt. “You win just by showing up,” Swanson explains, “but in the American court system you are not supposed to win your case unless you prove your case. What the proposal does is basically put the burden of proof on debt buyers before they can get a judge against a consumer to prove their case.” Luckily for residents of the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Swanson is pushing for stricter regulation of the state’s debt collection industry.

If you feel that you’ve been the victim of unfair debt collection practices, don’t freak out. Well, actually, go ahead and freak out. But channel your frustration into action. The most important thing you can do to increase your odds of winning a battle against these dogs is to keep a specific, detailed log of what the collector has said and done. That’s your argument and your evidence. You’re going to need it to make a solid case. Then, file a complaint through either the your state Attorney General’s office, the Consumer Protection Bureau or the FTC. When that’s taken care of, let us know what ultimately happened in the comment section below. We here at Credit Card Assist love nothing more than a good debt-collector-gets-screwed story.