Can I Sue a Debt Collector For Harassment?

You may collect damages if you sue a debt collector for abuse.

Yes. The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act specifically gives you the right to sue a debt collector for harassment. If a debt collector is found to have engaged in harassing behavior, you are entitled to up to $1,000 in damages, along with court costs and attorney fees.

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

Debt collector harassment violates the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. (FDCPA). The law, which is codified in 15 U.S.C. 1692, prohibits debt collectors from engaging in a number of specific behaviors. Under the FDCPA, if a debt collection agency violates the law, you have the power to sue for debt harassment.

Types of debt collector harassment or abuse

Under the FDCPA, debt collection collection agencies can’t harass or abuse you. For example, a debt collector can’t threaten to physically hurt you, nor can they threaten to smear your reputation. A debt collector also can’t swear at you or use profanity. In Horkey v. JVDB & Associates, Inc., a debt collector phoned and told Ms. Horkey’s coworker, “Tell Amanda to stop being such a f—- b—-.” Ms. Horkey sued, and the court ruled that the collector violated the FDCPA.

Debt collectors are notorious for calling consumers nonstop to pressure them into paying. The FDCPA prohibits calling repeatedly or continuously, but doesn’t specific the number of times a debt collector can call. Generally speaking, if a debt collector is calling several times a week, that’s harassment. In addition, the law says that it’s illegal for a debt collector to call you at your workplace when they know that you’re not allowed to receive calls at work. In Austin v. Great Lakes Collection Bureau, Ms. Austin won her lawsuit against the debt collector because they had continued to call her at work, even though she had told them to stop.

Other types of illegal debt collector practices

The FDCPA outlines a number of other unfair debt collection practices. For example, a debt collector can’t talk to another person about your debt and they must identify themselves as debt collectors when they call you. In Foti v. NCO Financial Systems, the court ruled that it was an FDCPA violation when NCO left a vague voicemail asking the person to return their call without saying that they were from a debt collection agency. They can’t threaten to sue you if they have no legal authority to do so, or if they don’t actually intend to follow through.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. If you feel as though you are being harassed by a debt collector, chances are good that they are violating the law. There are some cases that are particularly egregious, and others that are more run-of-the-mill.

This case demonstrates a classic case of debt collectors going far. In 2011 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sued a California company that harassed consumers by threatening to kill them and their pets, threatening to desecrate the bodies of their deceased relatives, and revealing their debts to third parties, including employers and neighbors. This is an extreme case, but it illustrates how the length to which some debt collection agencies will go.

If you are uncertain whether or not a debt collector harassed you, it’s important to contact an attorney who is experienced in protecting your rights under the FDCPA.

Can I collect damages if I successfully sue a collector for debt harassment?

The FDCPA says that consumers are entitled to sue debt collection agencies. If a debt collector has violated the law, you can recover up to $1,000 in statutory damages, court costs, and attorney fees. This means that you should not have to pay a dime out of pocket to have an attorney represent you in your FDCPA case.

If a debt collector has been hounding you, call 475-277-1600 for a free, no obligation case evaluation. Our attorneys have experience in fighting debt collectors and standing up for consumers. You have rights. We’ll help you get the justice you deserve.

Case citations

Austin v. Great Lakes Collection Bureau, 834 F. Supp. 557 (D. Conn. 1993)
Horkey v. JVDB & Associates, Inc., 179 F. Supp. 2d 861 (N.D. Ill. 2002)
Foti v. NCO Financial Systems, Inc., 424 F. Supp. 2d 643 (S.D.N.Y. 2006)

Have questions? Call us now at 475-277-1600 for a Free Case Evaluation.

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  • Lori C

    I get a call from vsg debt collector asking for and give me the name and previous address and last 4 ss digits I never agree to those being mine and ask what it’s about since they never called before or mailed me any letters when I ask what is it about they say have a nice day or nevermind then hang up. They call at least twice a week bit refuse to give any info on why calling.

  • Carolann

    I had a car that was totaled and I also have gap. The car loan is calling me non stop and when I say well the car was totalled and insurance has cut a check they get rude and say they do not work in that dept. So when I call the correct dept they give me a run around and blame error on progressive however per a 3 way call as of Feb 20th the wait was with the loan comp yet they are still calling and showing my credit report as missed payment and my score was went down so much it is sad. Either way they never follow up with a call back like they say they will for a update I just get the run around non stop.

  • Tabatha

    I have an issue I’m not sure how to handle. I had a credit card called orchard bank. It was bought out by GM in 2012 so orchard bank no longer exists. Anyway I have two debt collectors saying the other is fraud. That I still owe $590 to orchard bank. Yet when I tried paying the bill to Alliance Recovery it shows as UFI Global on the credit card slip. The next day I get a call from Global Finance claiming to cancel the card I was scammed so I did. When I asked them to change my address on the paperwork they had. The address they have does not exist they said I will do it later. Which is the same response I got from the other call the day before by Alliance Recovery. So I refused to pay the bill to Global Finance because I feel they are scamming to. The next day Alliance Recovery calls me asking why I canceled the payment. I said Global Finance says your a scam. She said no they are uggggg seriously. I refuse to pay either now I’m to old for childish games. They call my family constantly even after I asked them not to. And now they aren’t just calling and threating me with attaching wages but they are texting me now to uggg. The woman from Global Finance claims she is with arbitration. So I called GM directly and gave them all my info since I knew they bought out Orchard Bank in 2012. And that’s also the info Global Finance gave me when I asked. GM took my name and ss# and has nothing on file with my name. They never even heard of me. How is that possible when two debt collectors are harassing my family and I over something the company bought and would know about? Who do I trust in this situation? I’m so confused and stressed out. Please any advice would be most helpful.

  • shelly

    I recently fell behind on my bills. I have two bill collectors calling several times a day. I have a particular one that is calling my work phone after I asked them not to, they stop calling regular and started calling private, they have told me that they are going to garnish my wages, I will have to pay double and sent letters, and still have not taken any actions yet. But I have all of the recording from when they called me at work.

    I have another who is calling me on a home number, that I did not provide them and I just had changed and they got it again.

  • Tom

    I Received calls at workplace from debt collection agency – today I received a debt collection letter at work..

  • Carole M

    I paid my debts off thru a consolidation program in 2008. One of the banks insists i still owe them and has a collection agency contacting me, I have the paperwork proving my debts are paid, Can i sue for harassment?

  • Dee

    I have a loan thru a finance company thru a car dealership. The original arrangement was with another finance company. However, the finance company switch the date for me to make a car payment. Now they are calling 10 to 15 times a day. I do not answer because that is just too annoying. I make payments to the account. But nevertheless, they have called my references seeking information on my whereabouts. I am still at my home for 8 years. I have been diagnosed with cancer and the finance company is aware of my diagnosis. I advise them I will catch up and have been paying consistently. Just 1 payment behind. So is there anyway possible for me to get them from calling so much now or do I have to change my number to have this end?

  • Joe

    I think you will have to settle for whatever they are offering. If they offered you less amount in the past and you could not pay, then seems like you missed your chance.

  • Ronell D

    Question: I am receiving letters from Alliance One receivables management Inc.
    They keep sending me letters in regards to paying off a closed account debt with Firestone. The problem is, is that I keep getting them with different lowerpayoff amounts than the debt. Which is (1217.) Ex one in Dec for 547. Then another in Jan stating tax time is here soon
    Pay off 608. I left a message for them in Feb to pay off or monthly arrangements no call back. I called today first they say 860. Then sorry best we can do is 730.41. I would rather have paid the 547. But did not have the money at the time. Now I’m calling because it’s Tax time and now it’s 730.41 saying they have to reopen my account with credit first when I know that debt was already closed by the banks and now they’re collecting on a debt that they bought for pennies on the dollar. I would settle for the
    547. But I see now that they just want more money as time goes on. How do I resolve this? Any advice?

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