One of the hazards of being an attorney is that, sooner or later, very little will shock you. I thought I'd heard the worst of the worst in debt collection stories. Having just read this article, I realize that I was wrong.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits debt collectors from swearing at, verbally abusing, and otherwise harassing consumers. Violations of the Act carry a statutory penalty of $1,000 per violation and also could entitle the consumer to recover actual damages, attorney's fees, and punitive damages.
In a recently-filed lawsuit, a disabled veteran named Michael Collier alleges that an employee of debt collection firm Gurstel Chargo told him that he should have died. Here is the full quote:
"F--- you! Pay us your money! You can't afford an attorney. You owe us. I hope your wife divorces your a--. If you would have served our country better you would not be a disabled veteran living off social security while the rest of us honest Americans work our a-- off. Too bad; you should have died."
I can spot at least four violations in this one quote. To make matters worse, Gurstel also attempted to garnish Mr. Collier's disability payments in violation of federal law.
What is also telling about this case is that even though debt collectors know what they cannot do, they continue to do it. So why does this conduct continue to occur? Once you rule out the fact that some people are prone to be abusive to others when they are largely anonymous (see also: most of the Internet), I'd argue that one of the main reasons is that the stakes are rather low for the debt collectors.
People just don't defend their rights frequently enough. Perhaps not everyone is aware that the FDCPA provides such broad protection against abusive debt collectors. Maybe consumer defense law is an underserved practice area. What it all boils down to is that a lot of this behavior goes unpunished because people don't fight back.
If debt collectors are harassing you, then you have a case against them. In many cases, your original creditor is not a debt collector under the law. It is important to know the difference. If you believe that you may have an FDCPA claim against a debt collector, contact an experienced attorney to discuss your options.