How to Deal with Debt Collectors Who Violate Your Rights
Even if a debt collector violates the law in a relatively minor way, you can file a formal complaint. Take the following steps to protect your rights:
File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces the FDCPA. Whenever a debt collector violates that law, you should file a complaint with the FTC. Although the FTC will not go after the debt collector on the basis of your complaint alone, enough complaints about debt collectors working for the same company may equal a law suit against the company. Your complaint can help the FTC build its legal case.
You can file your FTC complaint online. You can also register your complaint by calling the FTC at 800-382-4357, or you can write to the FTC at Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Response Center, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580.
Be specific about how and when the debt collector violated your legal rights. If you have any documentation that helps prove the violation, mail your complaint to the FTC and attach copies of the documentation to the letter. Send a copy of your complaint to the debt collector. Just knowing that you have contacted the FTC may convince the debt collector to stop the illegal behavior.
Contact your state attorney general’s office: If your state has a law that applies to debt collectors, file a complaint about the debt collector with your state attorney general’s office. Your attorney general’s office won’t sue a debt collector on your behalf alone, but your complaint may help the office build a legal case against a debt collection company.
Consult a consumer law attorney: Consult a consumer law attorney as soon as a debt collector violates your federal or state debt collection legal rights. The attorney may suggest sending a letter to the debt collector warning that if the behavior continues, you will file a lawsuit.
If the debt collector’s behavior has been especially nasty —telling your employer about the money you owe, harassing you constantly about your debt, showing up at your home to threaten you with dire consequences, and so on — or if the attorney’s letter to the debt collector does not accomplish its goal, the lawyer may recommend that you file a lawsuit.
You can sue for actual and punitive damages under the FDCPA. When you sue for actual damages, you are asking the court to order the debt collector to reimburse you for the harm that he did to you. That harm may include lost wages and out-of-pocket expenses, as well as pain and suffering. If you ask for punitive damages as well, you are asking the court to make the debt collector pay you additional money as a way of discouraging him from breaking the law again.