Usually when someone receives dozens of phone calls at all hours of the day, all by the same person who also troubles the victim’s family, friends and neighbors, we have a word for it: STALKER! And stalkers, as we all know, are criminals.
But suppose the same scenario applies with just one difference: the “stalker” is a debt collector. Most people would be much less likely to think of the behavior as criminal. But in a sense, it is. Maybe it’s not as scary (except to your pocketbook), and maybe it’s not as creepy (although often extremely creepy tactics ARE used), but it’s every bit as illegal — in that the debt collector can be hauled into court and face stiff penalties. However, it’s not the police who do the job: If you’re the victim, it’s YOU. You can take action against the debt collector and, if you’re successful, you can collect as much as $1,000.00 in fines and you can recover your attorney’s fees and court costs — all thanks to something called the FDCPA (here) and its cousin, the Rosenthal Act.
The list of debt collector no-no’s is much too long to post here, but we can briefly mention the most typical abuses. If you notify them in writing to “cease further communication,” their phone calls have to stop; the same goes if you tell them your attorney’s name and that doesn’t even have to be in writing!
Whether or not you notify them, they’re NEVER allowed to:
- call before 8 AM or after 9 PM
- leave the phone ringing for a long time
- contact anyone else except to ask about your whereabouts (and then only once per person)
- mention your debt to anyone else
- send you a postcard of any kind, or an envelope that makes it obvious you’re in debt, or is marked to appear as though it’s from a lawyer or the government or a court
While they are allowed to call you fairly often, they must never use threatening or abusive language, nor speak to anyone but you, your spouse, your legal guardian or your attorney. They can’t suggest you’ve committed a crime or are going to prison, nor can they threaten anything that they don’t intend to do. In fact they can’t do anything that is (legally) harassing or oppressive or abusive or unfair or unconscionable.
But what if they do? Here’s what: Take them to court. If you’re successful (keep good records of the calls and letters, to be sure you can document the offenses and increase your chance to win), they could be obliged to pay you as much as $1,000.00 in fines plus your attorney’s fees and legal costs. Contact the Mlnarik Law Group if you think you have a case and together we can get that stalker to obey the law!
Jim Erickson, Associate