Real Examples of How Debt Collectors Violate the Law
The following are real-life examples of ways that debt collectors can (and do) violate the law. Again, this is not intended to be an exhaustive list, as debt collectors are constantly seeking new and creative ways to get people to pay them money.
1. Misleading Caller ID.
The first hurdle facing a debt collector is to try to get the consumer to answer the telephone. If a debt collector cannot get a consumer to answer the telephone, then the debt collector is going to have a difficult time getting the consumer to agree to pay money toward the debt being collected. In this day and age, nearly everyone has caller ID and can see who is calling them before they answer the phone.
The auto-dialing systems used by debt collectors are extremely advanced. These systems can be programmed by the debt collector to transmit a “fake” caller ID to try to trick the consumer into answering the telephone. Howie Law, PC is currently investigating a case where a debt collector actually programmed its caller ID to broadcast Dallas County DA (district attorney) as well as the district attorney’s telephone number when it called a consumer. The consumer, thinking the call was something other than a debt collection call, immediately answered the telephone call. By taking a picture of the caller ID on his telephone, the consumer was able to preserve the evidence of the call.
Other examples that debt collectors have been known to use include You Won, Congratulations, Prize Patrol, 911, Police, Ambulance, Fire, and any other words which would cause a normal individual to immediately answer the telephone. This conduction is a direct violation of the FDCPA which prohibits a debt collector from using false information or deceptive means to collect or attempt to collect a debt. This conduct would entitle a consumer to an award of up to $1,000 from the debt collector. If you have had this happen to you, contact Howie Law, PC to learn more about your rights.
2. Collecting or Attempting to Collect More Than What Is Actually Owed.
Another illegal tactic employed by debt collectors is to add interest and other charges to the balance that may be owed on the debt. The FDCPA prohibits a debt collector from adding interest or other charges unless the interest or other charges is allowed under the agreement creating the debt or unless the interest or other charges is allowed by law.
Many states allow interest to be charged on debt, so it is not foreign for a debt collector to attempt to collect interest on a debt. However, the debt collector must strictly comply with the law, and any overcharges constitute a violation of the FDCPA. In Texas, there is a statute that allows for interest to be charged on overdue debt. However, the statute is very tricky, and it is almost guaranteed that the debt collector has not strictly complied with the statute which constitutes a violation of the FDCPA.
If a debt collector has attempted to collect charges or interest in addition to the debt that is owed, the debt collector may have violated the law. If you have had this happen to you, contact Howie Law, PC to learn more about your rights.
3. Failing to Identify Itself When Leaving a Voicemail Message.
In line with the idea that the debt collector has a difficult time collecting a debt if it cannot reach the consumer, a debt collector will do whatever it takes to trick the consumer into calling the debt collector. A standard method employed by the debt collector to trick the consumer into calling the debt collector is to leave a voicemail message which fails to identify who is leaving the message. Standard messages include:
- Hey, Joe (or whatever the consumer’s name may be), it is your old buddy Sal. Give me a call at 1-800-xxx-xxxx.
- We are trying to reach Joe (or whatever the consumer’s name may be). Joe, if this is you, please contact us, as we have a very important message for you.
- Please call 1-800-xxx-xxxx.
- We have a very important matter to discuss with Joe (or whatever the consumer’s name may be). Joe, please call us at 1-800-xxx-xxxx.
The FDCPA prohibits a debt collector from placing telephone calls without meaningful disclosure of the caller’s identity. By leaving a message that fails to identify the caller, the debt collector has violated the law. The FDCPA also prohibits a debt collector from failing to disclose in communications that the communication is from a debt collector.
If you have had a debt collector leave a voicemail without identification, contact Howie Law, PC to learn more about your rights.
4. Threatening Litigation When There Is No Intent to Sue the Consumer.
Scare tactics are common among debt collectors. They like the consumer to think that really bad things are going to happen to the consumer if the consumer does not pay the debt being collected. One of the common scare tactics that debt collectors use is to “suggest” that the consumer might be sued if the consumer does not pay the debt. There are a number of ways this “suggestion” can be made. It can be through comments in a letter such as:
- Our client may authorize a law firm to file a civil lawsuit against you;
- You may be served if you fail to pay your debt;
- To avoid the possibility of having to pay court costs and legal fees, you should pay your debt immediately;
- Civil laws in your jurisdiction may allow suit to be filed on your case;
- Call us immediately if you want to know if you are going to be sued;
- Our client has authorized us to pursue any and all means to collect your debt;
- An attorney retained by this firm will pursue all means necessary to resolve this matter; or
- If you do not pay your debt, legal process can issue against you.
The aforementioned are just a few examples. The reason debt collectors use words like attorney, lawyer, sue, litigation, served, court costs, legal fees, suit, and other legal jargon is to scare the consumer into paying the debt.
Now, if the debt collector truly intends to file suit against the consumer, then it is acceptable to use this language. However, most of the time, the debt collector has absolutely no intent to file suit, especially if the debt is small or the state in which the consumer lives prohibits wage garnishment. If the debt collector has no intent to pursue litigation, then the FDCPA prohibits a debt collector from using statements like the ones provided above.
If you have received a letter from a debt collector containing phrases like ones above or if you have received telephone calls from a debt collector threatening litigation, contact Howie Law, PC to learn more about your rights.
5. Suing a consumer somewhere other than where the consumer lives.
Another favorite tactic for debt collectors involves filing a lawsuit against a consumer somewhere other than where the consumer resides. When a debt collector sues on an account, the debt collector’s goal is to obtain a quick and easy default judgment. Once suit is filed, if the consumer does not appear in court and assert a defense, the debt collector wins by default.
In fact, in many cases where a debt collector has filed suit, the debt collector will drop the suit entirely if the consumer does show up with an attorney to defend the suit, because it is too costly and time consuming for the debt collector to litigate those cases. In an effort to decrease the chances that a consumer will appear and defend a case, many debt collectors will file suit in a location that is far, far away from where the consumer lives knowing that the consumer in most cases cannot afford to appear and defend a case in a distant location.
This, however, is an clear and unequivocal violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act which prohibits lawsuits by debt collectors against consumers in locations other than 1) in lawsuits involving real property, in the judicial district where the property is located or 2) in all other lawsuits, in the judicial district where the contract was signed or where the consumer resides.
If you have been sued over a consumer debt in an improper forum, contact Howie Law, PC to learn more about your rights.
6. Garnishing wages in a state where wage garnishment is prohibited.
Texas is a state which was founded by debtors who were fleeing their creditors up north. When the state was formed, laws were passed to protect Texans’ assets from creditors. Included within the Texas Constitution is an absolute prohibition against the garnishment of a Texas resident’s wages for anything other than child support and spousal maintenance. This prohibition is also included in Section 42 of the Texas Property Code.
In spite of these absolute prohibitions, debt collectors will obtain a judgment in a state where garnishment is allowed and then attempt to use that judgment to garnish the wages of a Texas resident in direct violation of the aforementioned laws.
This constitutes a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), and a debt collector who employs this tactic can be liable for actual damages, statutory damages up to $1,000, and attorney’s fees and costs.
If you are a Texas resident whose wages have been garnished or are being garnished by a debt collector, contact Howie Law, PC to learn more about your rights.
7. Causing a telephone to ring to harass or annoy a consumer.
Automation is a debt collector’s best friend. By automating a task, a debt collector can not only cut its costs, but it can also accomplish the task much quicker. Nowhere is this more evident than in the automated and predictive dialing systems that are now being used.
These computer systems enable debt collectors to dial telephone numbers of consumers without a human having to lift a finger. By employing these systems, debt collectors can call a consumer repeatedly throughout the day with the apparent hope that by calling repeatedly, the consumer will finally give up and accept the call. Debt collectors can cause a telephone to ring repeatedly which can very quickly becomes a true annoyance.
Causing a telephone to ring to harass or annoy a consumer is an express violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). It is also a violation of the FDCPA for a debt collector to call early in the morning or late at night.
Harassment by telephone constitutes a violation of the FDCPA, and a debt collector who employs these tactics can be liable for actual damages, statutory damages up to $1,000, and attorney’s fees and costs.
If you are being harassed, abused, or annoyed by a debt collector repeatedly calling your telephone or your cell phone, contact Howie Law, PC to learn more about your rights.