“They’re bullies,” says attorney Ben Stewart of Stewart Law PLLC. “What consumers don’t know is that they may receive financial compensation for turning in nasty bill collectors for violating the federal law.
“People also don’t know that if they contact an attorney, the law says that bill collectors have to stop contacting you because you are represented by an attorney, and it won’t cost you a thing to do that. “If you hire me because the debt collector is harassing you in violation of a federal statute, then upon success of the case, my fees are paid by the debt collector, and the client who was harassed is entitled to receive money from the debt collector,” explains Stewart.
Last year the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received more than 100,000 calls from consumers with complaints about overzealous bill collectors. But a complaint to the FTC, although it might be a good thing to do, won’t stop the bill collector from bugging people with bad debts or get them compensation for being the target of unlawful actions.
“The law is there to protect you but you must invoke it by hiring an attorney,” says Stewart. “You have the right to file a complaint with the FTC about bill collector harassment, but that does not stop them from harassing you or get you compensation for turning them in.”
So What’s Unlawful Bill Collector Behavior
There are lots of rules for debt collectors. They can’t call you before 8:00 in the morning or after 9:00 at night. They can’t call you at work if they’re told you are not allowed to get calls at work. They must send you a “validation notice” telling you how much money you owe within five days of contacting you. They can’t use threats of violence or harm, repeatedly use the phone to annoy someone, make false statements, threaten to seize your property, or garnish your wages unless they have a court ruling, or contact you by postcard. Those are just a few of the things they can’t do.
Unscrupulous Debt Collection on the Rise
American consumers owe a lot of money. According to the experts, there is about $1 trillion in unpaid consumer debt in the US. Most of that is overdue by 90 days or more. Along with the high debt levels has come a very aggressive group of bill collectors that take advantage of the Internet and the electronic-age communication to squeeze consumers as hard as they can.
“They are definitely becoming more aggressive because of the age of personal electronics,” says Stewart. “You are more accessible to them than you used to be. They e-mail you, they US mail you, they can call you on your cell phone. The Internet makes it easier for them to find you at work and contact your employer. Then there are just more people having trouble paying their bills and there are more debt collectors out there.”
And just because you owe money doesn’t mean you don’t have rights. You may even be able to sue the debt collection agency. A woman in Texas recently filed suit against a debt collection company after one of its bill collectors called and identified himself as being from the “legal department.”
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That kind of misinformation used by bill collectors to frighten people into paying is strictly against the rules.
“Don’t let them get away with these kinds of things,” says Stewart. “You don’t have to and it may pay you to turn nasty bill collectors in for their bad behavior.”
Ben Stewart is an experienced prosecutor, municipal magistrate and civil trial lawyer dedicated to handling cases of people harmed by professional negligence. In addition to a full research and associate staff, Ben Stewart has arranged to contract other professionals from virtually every field of specialized law. He is a graduate of the University of Tampa (BS, in Psychology, 1994) and the Washburn School of Law (JD, 1997).