If you're in debt up to your ears, you might be worried that a debt collector might sue you for not paying on your debt. But did you know that there are many reasons for which you can actually sue them instead?
With the caveat that I'm not a lawyer, and am not giving any legal advice to you, here are the facts:
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, or FDCPA, outlines specific behaviors in which debt collectors are forbidden to engage. According to this law, if a collector does engage in these forbidden practices, you may have the right to sue them in a state or Federal court.
What are the forbidden practices that debt collectors may not engage in?
The first of these practices is harassment. The FDCPA defines harassment as using "threats of violence or harm", annoying somebody through repeated telephone calls, or using obscene language.
The second of these forbidden practices is making false statements. Under the FDCPA, debt collectors are forbidden from lying to collect on a debt. Some examples of making false statements include lying about how much you owe, falsely representing themselves as attorneys or government agents, or telling you that your non-payment of debt makes you a criminal. Collections agents have a sordid history of telling people whatever they have to in order to collect money. This includes telling blatant lies and other falsehoods.
Debt collectors also cannot publicize that you owe money on a debt. They're not allowed to contact other people about the debt you owe, contact you with a postcard (since a postcard can be read by anyone), or publish a list of people who owe money on debts. They are only allowed to contact other people about your debt if they need to find out your phone number, place of employment, or address.
So, what happens if a debt collector does engage in one of these forbidden practices?
Your first action should be to inform them that you are aware of your rights under the FDCPA, and that they must cease their illegal actions. Most of the time, this will resolve the problem without you having to resort to legal action.
If that doesn't work, however, you have up to one year from the date that they violated the law to sue them in state or Federal court. You can sue the collector for any damage that you can demonstrate you suffered because of their collection practices, such as medical bills or loss of wages.
Even if it's not possible for you to prove that they caused actual damages, the judge can still force them to pay you as much as $1,000. The judge can also make them pay you for any attorney's fees that you incurred.
Remember that your debt doesn't disappear just because the debt collector broke the law under the FDCPA while trying to collect on your debt. If you owe the debt, you will still have to repay the debt. The FDCPA only allows you to sue them if they break the law.
Be aware of the law, and your legal rights. If anyone breaks the law and violates your rights, be sure to use the law to protect your rights.