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Fair Debt Collection: Prohibited Debt Collection Practices

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What types of debt collection practices are prohibited?

Harassment. Debt collectors may not harass, oppress, or abuse you or any third parties they contact. For example, debt collectors may not:

  • use threats of violence or harm;
  • publish a list of consumers who refuse to pay their debts (except to a credit bureau);
  • use obscene or profane language; or repeatedly use the telephone to annoy someone.

False statements. Debt collectors may not use any false or misleading statements when collecting a debt. For example, debt collectors may not:

  • falsely imply that they are attorneys or government representatives;
  • falsely imply that you have committed a crime;
  • falsely represent that they operate or work for a credit bureau;
  • misrepresent the amount of your debt;
  • indicate that papers being sent to you are legal forms when they are not; or
  • indicate that papers being sent to you are not legal forms when they are.

Debt collectors also may not state that:

  • you will be arrested if you do not pay your debt;
  • they will seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages, unless the collection agency or creditor intends to do so, and it is legal to do so; or
  • actions, such as a lawsuit, will be taken against you, when such action legally may not be taken, or when they do not intend to take such action.

Debt collectors may not:

  • give false credit information about you to anyone, including a credit bureau;
  • send you anything that looks like an official document from a court or government agency when it is not; or
  • use a false name.

Unfair practices. Debt collectors may not engage in unfair practices when they try to collect a debt. For example, collectors may not:

  • collect any amount greater than your debt, unless your state law permits such a charge;
  • deposit a post-dated check prematurely;
  • use deception to make you accept collect calls or pay for telegrams;
  • take or threaten to take your property unless this can be done legally; or
  • contact you by postcard.

What control do you have over payment of debts?

If you owe more than one debt, any payment you make must be applied to the debt you indicate. A debt collector may not apply a payment to any debt you believe you do not owe.

What can you do if you believe a debt collector violated the law?

You have the right to sue a collector in a state or federal court within one year from the date the law was violated. If you win, you may recover money for the damages you suffered plus an additional amount up to $1,000. Court costs and attorney' s fees also can be recovered. A group of people also may sue a debt collector and recover money for damages up to $500,000, or one percent of the collector' s net worth, whichever is less.

Where can you report a debt collector for an alleged violation?

Report any problems you have with a debt collector to your state Attorney General's office and the Federal Trade Commission. Many states have their own debt collection laws, and your Attorney General' s office can help you determine your rights. 

American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC) is a nonprofit credit counseling agency offering services such as debt advice, debt consolidation programs, and consumer bankruptcy counseling. We have provided thousands of families with financial counseling and helped them with consolidating bills and paying off credit cards. For consumers in need of bankruptcy counseling, ACCC is approved by the Department of Justice to provide both pre bankruptcy credit counseling and post-bankruptcy debtor education.

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