Managing Debt For Dummies
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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.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

John Ventura: John is a best-selling author and a nationally boardcertified bankruptcy attorney. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Houston Law School and the director of the Texas Consumer Complaint Center at the Law School.
As a young boy, John dreamed of becoming a Catholic priest so he could help everyday people, and he spent his high school years in a Catholic seminary. After graduating, however, John decided to achieve his dream by combining journalism with the law. Therefore, he earned an undergraduate degree in journalism and a law degree from the University of Houston Law School. Later, he and a partner established a law firm in Texas, building it into one of the most successful consumer bankruptcy firms in the state. He subsequently began a successful consumer law firm in South Texas.
Today, as Director of the Texas Consumer Complaint Center, he supervises law students as they help consumers with their legal problems. He is also a regular speaker at law conferences around the country and serves on the Bankruptcy Council for the Texas Bar Association.
John is the author of 13 books on consumer and small business legal matters, including Law For Dummies, 2nd edition; The Everyday Law Kit For Dummies; Divorce For Dummies, 2nd edition; and Good Advice for a Bad Economy (Berkeley Books). John has been interviewed about consumer money matters by numerous national media including CNN, NBC, NPR, Bloomberg Television & Radio, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Newsweek, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Money, Inc. Martha Stewart’s Living, Bottomline, Entrepreneur,,, and In addition, his comments and advice have appeared in major newspapers around the country, and he has been a frequent guest on local radio programs.

Mary Reed: Mary Reed is a personal finance writer who has coauthored or ghostwritten numerous books on topics related to consumer money matters and legal rights. The books she has coauthored with John Ventura include The Everyday Law Kit for Dummies, Divorce For Dummies, and Good Advice for a Bad Economy (Berkeley Books). Mary has also written for the magazines Good Housekeeping, Home Office Computing, and Small Business Computing, and she has ghostwritten numerous articles that have appeared in national and local publications.
Mary is also the owner of Mary Reed Public Relations (MR•PR), an Austin, Texas-based firm that provides public relations services to a wide variety of clients, including authors, publishers, attorneys, financial planners, healthcare professionals, retailers, hotels, restaurants, and nonprofits.
Prior to starting her public relations business and writing career 20 years ago, she was vice president of marketing for a national market research firm, marketing director for a women’s healthcare organization, and public relations manager for Texas Monthly, a national award-winning magazine. She received her MBA from Boston University and her BA from Trinity University in Washington, DC.
In her free time, Mary serves on the board of a community development corporation in her neighborhood. She also enjoys long morning bike rides, road trips with her husband, gardening, working her way through the stack of books by her bed, taking care of her six cats, and spending time with her family and many friends.

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