Threatened by debt collectors? Four tips to fight back

Have you ever been contacted by debt collectors who said they were on their way to arrest you?

This is one of the threatening messages that debt collectors use to intimidate people. If you have received these kinds of calls, you are not alone. Through Dec. 8 of this year, 164,361 consumers have reported debt-collection-related complaints, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Consumer complaints increased in recent years. For instance, in 2010 debt collection complaints rose 17 percent over the previous year. In tough economic times, some people can’t afford to pay their debt and bills get sent to collection agencies. In order to make a profit in this slow economy, collection agencies have become more aggressive.

Among the most common complaints are: repeated phone calls at inappropriate times, threats about sending people to jail or ruining their credit rating as well as unfair payments requests.

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, all of the practices listed above are illegal and punishable by the FTC. The agency usually files lawsuits against debt collectors who violate consumers’ rights. In some cases, the agency also fines debt collectors or forces them to reimburse money to consumers.

We have some guidelines that will help you if you have to deal with debt collectors.

Stop the debt collector from contacting you after the first call: Tell the collector in writing that you don’t want to be contacted again via the telephone. Then, make a copy of the letter and send it certified receipt requested to the debt collector. Once collector receives the letter, they won’t contact you again unless they have to inform you about an action they are taking, like filing a lawsuit. If after the letter, the debt collector still calls you, get in touch with the FTC to file a complaint. The number is 1-877-FTC-HELP

If the collector has violated the law, you can sue: If you win a lawsuit against a collector, you can recover any actual damages that you suffered. Make sure you sue the collector within a year of the date when the violation occurred. You can receive up to a $1,000 even if the judge determines that you haven’t suffered any actual damages. Just keep in mind that even though you are able to sue the debt collector and win, you would still have to pay your debt.

If they sue you, respond immediately: If collectors sue you, you need to take action immediately. Contact your lawyer and respond to the lawsuit in a timely manner. If you don’t, the court may issue a judgment that requires your bank or your employer to pay your debt with your funds.

Contact the Attorney General’s office or Federal Trade Commission if you need to report a violation:       If you have been harassed, threatened, received false information or paid fees that you didn’t owe to a collector, report it to the Attorney General’s office or to the Federal Trade Commission To file a complaint, visit or call 1-877-FTC-HELP.