Can a Debt Collector Insult Me?

Debt collectors may not insult you. The FDCPA prohibits them from behaving in ways that harass, oppress, or abuse you.

This article was written by Lemberg Law staff, and reviewed by Sergei Lemberg, the managing attorney of Lemberg Law.

Can debt collectors be rude?

Consumers struggling with debt deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Although the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) was enacted to curb debt collection abuses, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported that they handled 84,500 debt collection complaints in 2017, including almost 11,000 regarding communication tactics. (See CFPB Annual Report 2018.)

These communication tactics include insults, which are prohibited by the FDCPA. It’s intuitive that debt collectors may not physically harm you or threaten to physically harm you in order to collect a debt, but they are also prohibited from engaging in behavior that harasses, oppresses, or abuses you. This includes calling you names, making nasty remarks about you or your family, insulting you, or using profane or abusive language when speaking with you.

What type of insults are prohibited?

Insults made by debt collectors need not directly relate to your debt to be in violation of the FDCPA (though these types of comments often are related to your nonpayment); they simply must be made in connection with the collection of a debt. The insults could be made in many forms, including comments relating to your:

  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Character
  • Intelligence
  • Physical appearance
  • Employment status
  • Relationship status
  • Home
  • Family
  • Gender identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Physical or mental disability
  • Pregnancy
  • Economic status
  • Education level
  • And other topics

Illegal insults can also be indirect, such as general comments regarding “people who pay their debt,” “people who do not pay their debt,” or any other comments intended to shame you. Essentially, if the debt collector insults you in an attempt to harass, annoy, embarrass, or abuse you, they are violating federal law.

What if a debt collector is insulting me publicly?

The FDCPA’s rules against harassment apply to public comments made about you by debt collectors, either directly to third parties, through publication, or on social media posts. (See Beacham vs. MarkOne Financial.) It is illegal for debt collectors to publicize your debts; making insulting comments about you publicly or on social media has the effect of publicizing your debts and violates other provisions of the FDCPA.

A debt collector keeps insulting me, but it doesn’t really bother me. Can I still file a complaint against them?

The insults made against you by a debt collector do not have to subjectively bother you in order to constitute a violation of the FDCPA. If you have a thick skin and don’t let their insulting remarks get to you, you still may have legal remedies under the FDCPA. The debt collector’s comments are prohibited if people would generally feel harassed, intimidated, or abused, regardless of whether they actually accomplish their goal on a subjective level. You will need to show some type of injury, but this could be damage to your reputation or even annoyance.

As a consumer, you do not have to endure the abusive insults of debt collectors. If you believe you are a victim of debt collection abuse, there may be legal remedies available to you under the FDCPA.

If you would like a no-cost consultation and advice about your potential for prevailing in an FDCPA lawsuit, our knowledgeable and experienced debt collection abuse legal team is happy to help. Please complete our online form or call us at 844-685-9200 ☎ NOW for a consultation.

Citations

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, CFPB Annual Report 2018, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Melanie Beacham vs. MarkOne Financial, LLC, In the Circuit Court of Sixth Judicial Circuit In and For Pinellas County, State of Florida, Civil Division, Case No 10-12883CI-15

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