As we mentioned in our explanation of why we sue collectors under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), Congress found four social maladies were caused by abusive debt collection practices:
1. Breakup of marriages;
2. Loss of jobs;
3. Filing of unnecessary bankruptcies; and
4. Invasions of personal privacy.
15 U.S.C. 1692 says in subsection (a):
There is abundant evidence of the use of abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection practices by many debt collectors. Abusive debt collection practices contribute to
the number of personal bankruptcies, to marital instability, to the loss of jobs, and to invasions of individual privacy.
Let’s look at these briefly.
Breakup of Marriages
Money problems are at the root of many broken marriages. That is not the fault of debt collectors. But what is the fault of debt collectors is when through abusive practices the collection industry puts even more stress and strain on an already fragile marriage.
Debt collectors have been known to say to one spouse “Why doesn’t your husband take care of you and pay the bills” or “Can’t you get your wife’s spending under control?” and similar types of stress producing statements. Threats of sending your spouse to prison certainly adds stress. Threats of immediately garnishing wages (normally not allowed) create additional pressure in a situation where there is enough pressure due to money issues anyway.
The biggest threat to a marriage, however, is not normally what is said to one spouse but instead what is said to those outside the marriage. When your mother in law is contacted about you not paying some bill. When your father is called. Or your brother in law or the neighbors are contacted by abusive collectors. All of these things are designed to create intense pressure so eventually there is a “snapping” by one or both spouses.
Its hard to be upset at the third party who has been contacted illegally so the natural target for the anger is the spouse. The one who incurred the charges. Or the one who didn’t pay the bills like he or she was supposed to pay. Or the one who has been sick and unable to work. Or the one who didn’t get the promotion and so is not making the money that we wanted our spouse to make. Etc.
The blame gets transferred to the spouse and the desire is to just start over.
Congress found abusive debt collection practices increase this pressure and, obviously, breaking up marriages because some collection agencies can’t obey the law is a bad thing and needs to be stopped.
Loss of Jobs
Bill collectors who like to break the law often target our work. They know if they can threaten the way that we make our money, then we will have to pay them — even if we don’t owe the debt.
So, how does an abusive debt collector do this?
Call your work repeatedly and leave you messages. Even when you tell the collector you can’t receive these types of calls at work, the collector will often still do it to bring pressure on you.
Call your co-workers. “I can’t get in touch with Susie. She won’t call me back. Can you please get her to call me — this is a very important private business matter.”
Unless your co-worker is naive, she will know what this is about. Its a debt collector.
And when she brings you the phone message slip or sends you an email, you feel the world start to close in on you. Especially when this is repeated over and over. This is the classic “Office Party” technique of calling your co-workers.
Another strategy is to call your boss or supervisor. Let her know that you are avoiding calls. Let her know that there is something in your personal life that has now spilled over into your work life.
When your supervisor mentions this to you, and you know the company is looking at layoffs, how does that make you feel? The danger is that even though you are a good worker, the company does not have time for people who “can’t handle their personal matters outside of work.”
Finally, just the stress of being illegally threatened, of having your phone blown up every day, of being harassed and abused, can take your mind off of work and cause your job performance to slip.
All of these are unnecessary problems. These don’t result from honorable debt collectors. They do result from those debt collectors who are willing to break the law in their greed to gain a few dollars from you.
Filing of Unnecessary Bankruptcies
Bankruptcies are necessary at times and filing a bankruptcy is a legitimate option. But what is wrong is when people who don’t need to file bankruptcies are forced into it by abusive collectors.
If you look at most bankruptcy lawyer advertisements (websites, yellow pages, television ads, etc) you will notice a common theme: “We can stop the collection harassment.”
It is true that bankrutpcy can do this.
But if this is the main reason someone wants to file bankruptcy, then it is like having your hand cut off for a hangnail.
There are simpler and more precise ways of handling the problem.
But when a collector, or multiple collectors, abuse you and threaten you and harass you and you are looking at potentially losing your marriage or your job, then sometimes the only thing that comes to mind is to file bankruptcy.
Bankruptcy is for when you can’t pay your bills. But we have seen many people go to bankruptcy lawyers who really can get back on their feet but the strain and stress of illegal and abusive collection practices prevents them from doing so.
Some of our bigger cases have been referred to us by bankruptcy lawyers who recognized that a person was sitting in their office with the ability and desire to file bankruptcy but who didn’t need to file bankruptcy.
Instead, a lawsuit against the abusive collection agency was sufficient to stop the abuse and ultimately result in compensation to our client for the harms suffered.
There is nothing wrong with filing bankruptcy, but what is wrong is when this decision is forced upon consumers because there are collectors out there who don’t care anything about obeying the law.
Invasions of Personal Privacy
We have the right to have our personal financial business kept private.
Collectors know this — they are charged with keeping this information private under a number of federal laws.
The reason is that it is very embarrassing and damaging to have our personal business laid open for the world.
This why our medical records are given protection — it is our right to privacy. This is why a debt collector can’t put up a billboard saying “Joe in Hoover owes us $3,000!” This is why collection agencies can’t send out post cards.
And this is why the law is so strict on preventing debt collectors from contacting third parties unless it is for the legitimate limited purpose of gaining your “location information” — home address, home phone, and place of employment.
Privacy also means you are entitled to a sense of peace and quiet. Someone can’t just walk into your house — you are supposed to be safe there. Someone, including a debt collector, can’t decide to call you half a dozen times a day. Day in and day out. You have a right to be undisturbed in your home.
Now certainly a collector can call you if it obeys the laws. But to call over and over in a simple attempt to annoy and harass you? No. That often violates your right to privacy.
There is no hard and fast rule on where “the line is” on privacy. But jurors can use their common sense and figure out when it becomes too much. A good guide is the FDCPA itself — when it is violated, we often see a violation of the right to privacy.
Legitimate and honorable debt collectors are a good part of society. They play a key role in our economy and serve a good purpose.
Dishonorable collectors who are willing to break the law do not serve a good purpose. Instead they are tearing down our society instead of building it up. They are using threats and harassment against consumers. This is unfair to consumers and it is unfair to the honorable and legitimate debt collectors who play by the rules.
If these law breakers are allowed to continue, then we will continue to see a rise in unnecessary marriage failures, job loss, bankruptcies, and invasions of privacy.
This is why the FDCPA was passed.
This is why if you have been abused by a collector, you should consider suing the collector.
This is why we sue collectors who break the law.
If you live in Alabama and have any questions about collectors, or if you would like our free book on stopping abusive collectors, call us at 205-879-2447 or contact us through the contact page of our website. If you live outside of Alabama, feel free to go to NACA to see if there is a consumer lawyer in your area as we can’t help you outside of Alabama.
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