For anyone who has struggled with debt, you know how much that financial strain can impact every other part of your life. From negatively affecting your health to limiting your ability to enjoy life, debt can take a serious toll on your well-being and quality of life. This is particularly true when dealing with debt collectors, who may contact you in a variety of ways as they attempt to pursue an outstanding debt.
The fear of debt collection efforts can make it difficult to answer your phone or check your mailbox — especially if the debt collector who is attempting to contact you is using harassing or threatening language, or even trying to collect on a nonexistent or paid-off debt.
While debt collection is a fact of life for millions of Americans, the reality is that there are certainly situations where debt collectors can overstep their boundaries, or make a mistake that trickles down to you, the consumer. Indeed, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) — two federal agencies set up to protect American consumers from fraud and other financial threats — receive thousands of complaints about improper debt collection each year.
How Are Consumers Protected from Debt Collectors?
In the U.S, consumers are protected by deceptive, harassing, or fraudulent debt collection efforts by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, or FDCPA. Primarily enforced by the FTC, FDCPA offers consumers a number of important safeguards against abusive and unfair collection efforts by third party debt collectors. In particular, FDCPA provides regulations and guidelines over:
- When a debt collector may contact you. Broadly speaking, FDCPA places limits on when and where a debt collector can make contact with you. For example, the law bars creditors from contacting you in an unusual time or place.
- How a debt collector can make contact with you. FDCPA dictates that debt collectors must use forms of communication that are reasonably private, and bars collectors from using language that is obscene, violent, or threatening, or from lying or misrepresenting any information. If you retain an attorney, debt collection laws also indicate that a debt collector must make contact through your lawyer, rather than contacting you, the debtor, directly.
- What information a debt collector must provide to you. Under FDCPA, debt collectors are required to furnish relevant information in a timely manner upon request — including the name of the creditor, the amount you owe, and the steps you can take to dispute the debt.
You can learn more about FDCPA via the FTC’s official resources, available here.
At the same time, it’s important to keep in mind that there may be other protections available to you, based on the specifics of your situation. For example, some states have enacted laws that go beyond FDCPA in their protection of debtors. Based on your location, there may also be statutes of limitations when it comes to debt collection and enforcement; in Illinois, for example, there is a statute of limitations on when a creditor can attempt to file a lawsuit against a consumer seeking legal recovery. Finally, taking an action such as filing for bankruptcy can offer protection from some creditors; bankruptcy provides the protection of the automatic stay, which can pause most debt collection activity.
Complaints Against Creditors and Debt Collectors, By the Numbers
With all this being said, it is not unheard of for consumers to be the subject of debt collection efforts that violate FDCPA, in one way or another. In fact, debt collection complaints consistently ring in as one of the FTC’s most common categories of consumer complaint, alongside identity theft and imposter scams. In 2017, for instance, debt collection reports made up about 23% of all complaints reported to the FTC; in 2018, they accounted for roughly 16% of reports. In Illinois, debt collection came in as the third most common type of FTC report in 2018.
According to a report to Congress from the CFPB, the Bureau “received approximately 81,500 debt collection complaints” throughout 2018. Of these complaints:
- 40% stemmed from creditors or third party collectors attempting to collect on a debt not owed, whether because it was nonexistent (53%), already paid (23%), resulting from identity theft (20%), or discharged in bankruptcy (4%)
- 20% of complaints came because the debtor did not receive proper or complete written notification about the debt
- 13% of complaints came as a result of “communication tactics,” including frequent or repeated calls (55%), continued contact attempts despite requests to stop (31%), or the use of obscene, profane, or abusive language (11%)
- 10% of complaints had to do with the debt collector making “false statements or representations” — such as attempts to collect the wrong amount (72%), impersonating an attorney or law enforcement official (18%), or misrepresenting the debt as a crime (8%)
Seeking Out Help
If you are facing harassing, threatening, inappropriate, or inaccurate debt collection attempts, it is important to know your rights, and look for a solution that can provide the lasting relief you deserve. Unfortunately, it can often be frustrating, confusing, and downright scary to face debt collection efforts alone.
Remember: You don’t have to go through this daunting process by yourself. In many cases, an experienced attorney can be an incredibly important resource if you find yourself dealing with mounting debt collection efforts. An experienced consumer attorney can help you in many different ways, including helping you to respond appropriately to any debt collection efforts in writing, while also empowering you to fully understand all of your rights as a debtor. At the same time, a legal professional can help you understand all of your options based on the specific variables of your situation — including knowing if you can dispute the debt, or take action under state or federal law.
About the Gunderson Law Firm
Have any more questions about any aspect of the debt collection process in Illinois? Want to discuss the details of your personal situation with an experienced Chicagoland attorney? If you’re seeking answers or want to get a handle on your unique circumstances, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the attorneys and staff of the Gunderson Law Firm to begin the conversation.
Whether you are a business owner, a wage earner, retired, or otherwise, we can address your specific situation with strategic plans to help put severe indebtedness behind you so you can enjoy life again. Our professionals possess unparalleled expertise and insight, bolstered by years of experience and valuable connections with many of the top real estate and financial professionals in Chicagoland.
Above all else, we are committed to providing the advocacy you need without the attitude you don’t. If you have found other lawyers to be more about their egos than about your case, talk to Gunderson Law Firm. Our attorneys are not only highly knowledgeable and experienced, but very down-to-earth. We’re all about great representation and timely results, tailored to your unique circumstances. Feel free to drop us a line whenever you would like to keep the conversation going.