How to file a complaint against an abusive debt collector

Keep good records of all of your communications with a debt collector.

No harassment

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) says debt collectors can’t harass, oppress, or abuse you or anyone else they contact.

Some examples of harassment are:

  • Repetitious phone calls that are intended to annoy, abuse, or harass you or any person answering the phone
  • Obscene or profane language
  • Threats of violence or harm
  • Publishing lists of people who refuse to pay their debts (this does not include reporting information to a credit reporting company)
  • Calling you without telling you who they are

You can also sue the debt collector for violations of the FDCPA. If you sue under the FDCPA and win, the debt collector must generally pay your attorney’s fees and may also have to pay you damages.

No misrepresentations

The FDCPA also says debt collectors can’t use false, deceptive, or misleading practices. This includes misrepresentations about the debt, including:

  • The amount owed
  • That the person is an attorney if they are not
  • False threats to have you arrested
  • Threats to do things that cannot legally be done
  • Threats to do things that the debt collector has no intention of doing

It is a good idea to keep a file of all letters or documents a debt collector sends you and copies of anything you send to a debt collector. Also, write down dates and times of conversations along with notes about what you discussed. These records can help you if you have a dispute with a debt collector, meet with a lawyer, or go to court.

The CFPB has prepared sample letters that you can use to respond to a debt collector who is trying to collect a debt along with tips on how to use them. The sample letters may help you to get information, set limits or stop any further communication, or exercise some of your rights.

If you believe a debt collector is harassing you, you can submit a complaint with the CFPB online or by calling (855) 411-CFPB (2372). You can also contact your state’s attorney general

Keep good records of all of your communications with a debt collector.

No harassment

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) says debt collectors can’t harass, oppress, or abuse you or anyone else they contact.

Some examples of harassment are:

  • Repetitious phone calls that are intended to annoy, abuse, or harass you or any person answering the phone
  • Obscene or profane language
  • Threats of violence or harm
  • Publishing lists of people who refuse to pay their debts (this does not include reporting information to a credit reporting company)
  • Calling you without telling you who they are

You can also sue the debt collector for violations of the FDCPA. If you sue under the FDCPA and win, the debt collector must generally pay your attorney’s fees and may also have to pay you damages.

No misrepresentations

The FDCPA also says debt collectors can’t use false, deceptive, or misleading practices. This includes misrepresentations about the debt, including:

  • The amount owed
  • That the person is an attorney if they are not
  • False threats to have you arrested
  • Threats to do things that cannot legally be done
  • Threats to do things that the debt collector has no intention of doing

It is a good idea to keep a file of all letters or documents a debt collector sends you and copies of anything you send to a debt collector. Also, write down dates and times of conversations along with notes about what you discussed. These records can help you if you have a dispute with a debt collector, meet with a lawyer, or go to court.

The CFPB has prepared sample letters that you can use to respond to a debt collector who is trying to collect a debt along with tips on how to use them. The sample letters may help you to get information, set limits or stop any further communication, or exercise some of your rights.

If you believe a debt collector is harassing you, you can submit a complaint with the CFPB online or by calling (855) 411-CFPB (2372). You can also contact your state’s attorney general

Debt Collection

Debt collectors generate more fraud reports to the FTC than any other industry. Although many debt collectors are careful to comply with consumer protection laws, others engage in illegal conduct. Some collectors harass and threaten consumers, demand larger payments than the law allows, refuse to verify disputed debts, and disclose debts to consumers’ employers, co-workers, family members, and friends. Debt collection abuses cause harms that financially vulnerable consumers can ill afford. Many consumers pay collectors money they do not owe and fall deeper into debt, while others suffer invasions of their privacy, job loss, and domestic instability.

The FTC enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), which prohibits deceptive, unfair, and abusive debt collection practices. Among other things, the FDCPA bars collectors from using obscene or profane language, threatening violence, calling consumers repeatedly or at unreasonable hours, misrepresenting a consumer’s legal rights, disclosing a consumer’s personal affairs to third parties, and obtaining information about a consumer through false pretenses. Because certain practices that violate the FDCPA also violate the FTC Act, the FTC also uses the FTC Act to halt unfair or deceptive debt collection practices.

The FTC has sued over 30 debt collection companies for violating the law, banning some from the business and making them pay steep financial penalties. The FTC also has recommended that Congress and the states modernize the debt collection laws to reflect changes in consumer debt, the collection industry, and technological developments that affect consumers and collectors alike. For example, a 2010 FTC report concluded that the process that many debt collectors use to sue alleged debtors or force them to arbitration is seriously flawed and causes substantial consumer harm. The report recommended that government, industry, and others adopt significant reforms.

Share this page

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Linked-In

Have you ever gotten a call about a debt you don’t recognize? Or have you had a collector harass, threaten, or lie to you? If you owe a debt — or if you don’t owe the debt a collector is asking about — you have rights when it comes to debt collectors. Here’s what you need to know.

  • How to Spot Fake Debt Collectors
  • How to Know If a Debt Is Yours
  • How to Spot an Abusive Debt Collector
  • Report Fake and Abusive Debt Collectors

How to Spot Fake Debt Collectors

Not everyone who calls saying that you owe a debt is a real debt collector. Some are scammers who are just trying to take your money. So how can you tell?

A caller may be a fake debt collector if they

  • want you to repay a debt you don’t recognize
  • refuse to give you their mailing address or phone number
  • pressure you, or try to scare you into paying by threatening to report you to law enforcement or have you arrested

How to Know If a Debt Is Yours

Did someone contact you about a debt that you don’t recognize? The best way to confirm it’s yours is to get “validation information.” By law, debt collectors have to give you information — either over the phone or in writing — that includes

  • the amount of the debt
  • the name of the current creditor
  • how to get the name of the original creditor

Here are a few more things to do if you get a call about a debt you don’t recognize.

  1. Find out who’s calling . Get the name of the collector and the collection company, its address, and phone number.
  2. Do your own detective work. Check with the original creditor. Is the debt yours? Did the creditor sell the debt or hire a company to collect it? If so, is the caller their collector?
  3. Dispute the debt. If you think you don’t owe some — or all — of the debt, dispute it with the collector by mail or online. Even if you got validation information.

As you’re checking out a debt collection call, remember: don’t respond to threats. When scammers threaten to arrest you, suspend your driver’s license, or call your employer if you don’t pay immediately, hang up and report the collector to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov .

Learn more about dealing with debt collection at ftc.gov/debt .

How to file a complaint against an abusive debt collector

How to Spot an Abusive Debt Collector

What if you recognize the debt, but you think the debt collector is harassing or lying to you? Or treating you unfairly? Here are some things to know:

Collectors can’t harass you. For example, collectors

  • can’t threaten to hurt you
  • may not use obscene or profane language
  • can’t repeatedly call you

Collectors can’t lie. For example, collectors

  • cannot tell you that you owe a different amount than what you actually owe
  • may not pretend to be an attorney or from the government
  • can’t tell you that you’ll be arrested, or claim they’ll take legal action against you if it’s not true

Collectors can’t treat you unfairly. For example, collectors

  • may not try to collect interest, fees, or other charges on top of the amount you owe, unless the original contract or your state law says they can
  • can’t deposit a post-dated check early
  • cannot publicly share your debts, including by sending postcards or putting information on envelopes

Posted July 26, 2021 by Kevin McCullough & filed under General Law.

How to file a complaint against an abusive debt collectorBeing subjected to harassment from a bill collector does more than just create additional stress. It can lead to the invasion of your privacy, the loss of your job, bankruptcy, and even marital strain or divorce.

While creditors can legally make repeated attempts to collect or authenticate a debt, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), on the other hand, considers certain kinds of communication by debt collectors to be unethical and does not allow it.

The majority of debt collectors are aware that debtors are protected by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and follow federal legislation when attempting to collect a debt.

That said, some creditors step out of bounds and engage in harassment or abuse to force someone to make a payment. Here’s what you should know about creditor harassment and what you can do about it.

Identifying Debt Collection Harassment

Understanding what debt collection harassment is and how to identify it is critical to protecting your debtors’ rights. Ideally, you will be able to immediately know whether or not a bill collector is crossing the line and can call them out on their behavior in real time.

Examples of Creditor Harassment

Not all debt collector harassment looks the same. However, some of the most common examples of it include:

  • Receiving calls from the same creditor that are made repeatedly with the purpose of annoying, intimidating, or bullying you or someone else who answers the phone into making a payment
  • Having creditors verbally accost you with profane or obscene language
  • Receiving threats of harm, harm to your family, threats to doxx or reveal private information about you
  • Having your name and other information published on a publicly accessible list of debtors to mock or shame them (this does not include credit bureau reporting)
  • Receiving phone calls from creditors who refuse to identify themselves

Creditors are also prohibited from engaging in false, dishonest, or misleading actions to collect a debt, according to the FDCPA. This includes attempting to deceive you or misrepresent the debt or themselves. Debt collectors may try to lie to you about:

  • How much you actually owe
  • That the creditor is an attorney when they are not
  • The ability to have you arrested or charged with a crime if you do not pay (this isn’t true)
  • The scope of how the debt can be collected; for example, they may not threaten to freeze your bank account if they do not have the authority to do so)

What You Can Do to Stop a Debt Collection Agency from Harassing You

Even though state and federal laws protect you from unfair debt collection practices, some bill collectors will hedge their bets on you not understanding your rights and going along with whatever they tell you out of fear. If you are being continually harassed by a creditor, here are some things you can do.

Steps to Take

Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself from debt collector harassment:

Send a Formal Letter

You can send a formally written letter to your creditor requesting that they cease communication with you. You can state in the letter that you are aware of your rights and they have engaged in harassment, and you will be pursuing further action if they do not comply. Keep a copy of this – and everything else – for your own records.

File a State Complaint

You can file a complaint about creditor harassment with your state before filing with the Federal Trade Commission or at the same time. You can also file only a state complaint if you prefer.

In Massachusetts, you are protected from debt collection harassment by the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act (MCPA). You can report creditor abuse to the Attorney General.

New Hampshire also has its own legislation to protect residents from unscrupulous bill collectors, called New Hampshire’s Unfair, Deceptive, or Unreasonable Collection Practices Act. Violations are reported to the NH Consumer Protection Bureau.

File a Federal Complaint

You can file a federal complaint against an abusive debt collector by reporting directly to the Federal Trade Commission using their online form, or you can contact the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Hire a Debt Collection Attorney

Often, dealing with the red tape of filing a complaint with the necessary state and federal authorities to stop creditor harassment is as stressful as dealing with the harassment itself. If you need help navigating the process of reporting an abusive bill collector, a debt collection attorney can be an excellent resource.

How a Massachusetts Debt Collection Attorney Can Help You Today

Dealing with creditor harassment or abuse can make you feel ashamed and angry when you’re already frustrated and struggling to meet your debt obligations. Being harassed by a bill collector isn’t typically helpful at solving the problem, however, creditors continue to do it anyway.

If you’ve been harassed or abused by a bill collector, one of two things should occur. First, the harassment needs to be stopped. Then, it should be determined if the abuse caused you any financial or emotional damages. If you can prove to a court of law that you lost your job, became depressed, or otherwise tangibly suffered as a result of creditor harassment, you may be able to sue for compensation.

At Mazow | McCullough, PC, we are seasoned New Hampshire and Massachusetts consumer protection attorneys and can help you stand up to unfair debt collection practices. We’ll zealously go to bat for you, even against large creditors with multi-attorney legal teams.

Contact us today to learn more about your rights as a debtor against harassment or to schedule your consultation at (978) 744-8000 or toll free at (855) 693-9084.

Abusive debt collection practices can contribute to personal bankruptcies, employment and marital instability, invasion of privacy, mental anguish and emotional distress. Even in times of economic prosperity, it may be difficult to meet certain financial obligations due to a sudden loss of income, coping with a catastrophic injury, or other adverse situations. Maryland has been at the forefront of protecting consumers against abusive debt collection practices by licensing collection agencies and enforcing the Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act.

The Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act 1 (“the Act”) provides recourse to Maryland consumers whose rights under the Act have been violated. Please be advised that the Act does not apply to any commercial transaction or transactions entered to carry on a business interest. Also, the collection of certain obligations owed to a state or the federal government may preempt the law. Under the Act a collector who violates any provision of the Maryland law is liable for damages proximately caused by the violation, including damages for emotional distress or mental anguish suffered with or without accompanying injury.

Types of debts covered under the law: Consumer transactions involving a person seeking or acquiring real or personal property, services, money or credit for personal, family, or household purpose.

Types of individuals subject to the law: Any person collecting or attempting to collect an alleged debt arising out of consumer transaction. This includes creditors and or any person hired as an employee of the creditor, and third party collection organizations and attorneys who collect debts for another.

Types of collection acts prohibited: In collecting or attempting to collect an alleged debt, a collector may not:

  • Use or threaten force or violence.
  • Threaten criminal prosecution, unless the transaction is a violation of a criminal statute.
  • Disclose or threaten to disclose any information which affects your reputation for credit worthiness with knowledge that the information is false.
  • Contact your employer with respect to a delinquent indebtedness before obtaining a final judgment against you.
  • Disclose or threaten to disclose to a person other than yourself, or your spouse (or parent if the debtor is a minor) information which affects your reputation, whether or not for credit worthiness, with knowledge that the other person does not have a legitimate business need for the information.
  • Communicate with you or a person related to you at unusual hours or in any other manner as reasonably can be expected to abuse or harass you.
  • Use obscene or grossly abusive language in communicating with you or a person related to you.
  • Claim, attempt, or threaten to enforce a right with knowledge that the right does not exist.
  • Use a communication which simulates legal or judicial process or gives the appearance of being authorized, issued or approved by a government, government agency or lawyer when it is not.

To File a Complaint at the Federal Level

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) has published action letters for consumers to consider using when corresponding with debt collectors. The letters address the following situations:

Or you can write the CFPB at the following address:

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
P.O. Box 4503
Iowa City, Iowa 52244
Or Fax 855-237-2392
Phone Number: 855-411-CFPB (2372)
8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., Eastern Time, Monday-Friday

The CFPB has a list of frequently asked questions and answers concerning debt collection.

The Federal Trade Commission
The Federal Trade Commission also collects complaints about abusive collection agency practices and enforces compliance with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Your complaints can help detect patterns of wrong-doing, and lead to investigations and prosecutions. The FTC enters all complaints it receives into Consumer Sentinel, a secure online database that is used by thousands of civil and criminal law enforcement authorities worldwide. The FTC does not resolve individual consumer complaints. The FTC has published several articles on the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).

Or you can write the FTC at the following address:

Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20580
202-326-2222
Toll-free helpline: 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357)
TTY: 1-866-653-4261

1 Maryland Code Annotated, Commercial Law, Title 14, Subtitle 2 [Note: to access the Maryland Code Annotated from this link, select the “Maryland Code” folder, then select the individual folders or links provided to delve into the volumes, chapters, and/or sections of the publication.]

Debt collection practices and abuses in California are covered under AB 1864, the California Consumer Financial Protection Law (CCFPL), and SB 908, the Debt Collection Licensing Act, which provides for the licensure, regulation, and oversight of California debt collectors by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation.

Both measures passed and were signed into law in 2020. The CCFPL took effect on Jan. 1, 2021, but SB 908 does not take effect until Jan. 1, 2022.

For Consumers:

Debt collectors are persons who regularly engage in the business of debt collection on the person’s own behalf or on behalf of others. To collect a debt, they can call and email consumers, but they are restricted under the CCFPL from engaging in unfair, unlawful, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices. You can file a complaint against a debt collector at https://dfpi.ca.gov/file-a-complaint/. Questions should be sent to [email protected] or you can call 1-866-275-2677.

What to Look Out For:

  • Debt collectors are not allowed to threaten you with arrest, violence, or harm. They are not allowed to threaten to call or harass your employer or your family members, misrepresent the amount you owe, use obscene or profane language, or to call repeatedly to annoy you. If debt collectors engage in these practices, their actions might be illegal.
  • Check your credit report for negative reports you were not aware of or debts that may have been reported in error (for example, debts you don’t recognize or believe you have paid off). If you believe there is an error, you may dispute the negative report. For more information, see https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0151-disputing-errors-credit-reports.
  • Beware of any debt collector who tries to make you affirm or acknowledge debt that you don’t recognize, that is really old, or that you believe was discharged in bankruptcy. Before you make any affirmation you may want to check your rights by contacting an attorney or the Department.
  • If you get phone calls from a debt collector, keep a record of the calls, including the name of the debt collector, creditor, and the amount of the purported debt. Record each of the times they call you and what they say. Note whether they recorded your phone call. Don’t be afraid to ask questions: what’s their name and address, who are they collecting for, how much do they claim you owe, when was the debt incurred, etc. A detailed record of how often the debt collector has been contacting you and what the debt collectors say to you may help protect you from unfair, unlawful, deceptive or abusive behavior if you need to complain to the Department about their behavior.
  • A debt collector may try to negotiate with you and offer a payment plan. Before you share personal or financial information or take their offer, ask for written documentation of the alleged debt to make sure the debt is yours, the amount is accurate, and that it was not previously paid or discharged in bankruptcy. Ask for the name of the original creditor and the name of the debt collector, its address and telephone number so that you can do your own due diligence before agreeing to a payment plan.
  • Before you make or agree to make a payment on an old debt, you can check your rights online at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/debt-collection-faqs or call the Department. Otherwise, you may unintentionally open yourself up to additional collection attempts.
  • If a debt collector threatens to sue you or says they have sued you, find out if they did. If so, you may need to act quickly by contacting a lawyer.
  • Be on the alert for any debt buyer who calls you but does not provide you with anything in writing or anywhere to send a written request for a contract or other documents showing that you agreed to the debt. If a debt buyer attempts to collect a debt in writing, you are entitled to receive documentation from them validating the alleged debt.
  • If a debt buyer obtained a default judgment against you but you did not receive notice of the lawsuit until after the default judgment was entered, you may still be able to get the default judgment set aside and defend yourself in the lawsuit. But you have a limited amount of time to act. You may have to act quickly by contacting a lawyer or the Department.

For Debt Collectors:

Debt collectors are among the new financial service providers covered starting Jan. 1, 2021 under the CCFPL.

In addition, SB 908 – the Debt Collection Licensing Act – requires debt collectors and buyers to apply for a DFPI license by Dec. 31, 2021. Debt collectors and buyers who apply for a license after that date will be required to wait for the issuance of a license before they can operate in California. The DFPI expects to establish a licensing process and application form, and to begin accepting license applications in the late summer or early fall of 2021. Any change to that target timeline will be announced here.

The Department expects to review applications and issue licenses in 2022 and 2023. Once licensed, debt collectors will not need to register under the CCFPL.

Laws and regulations

The Debt Collection Licensing Act also requires debt collectors to submit to examination, file reports under oath, maintain surety bonds, submit to criminal background checks and pay pro rata shares of all costs and expenses reasonably incurred by the DFPI to license and regulate the industry.

The Department plans to prepare multiple rulemaking packages to implement the new law. The Department is in the process of drafting regulations related to the license application process. On April 23, the Department published proposed regulations regarding the licensing process for debt collectors for public comment. Stakeholders can find a copy of the proposed regulations here. The deadline for comments on the modified text is July 12, 2021.

More rulemaking packages will follow in subsequent years.

Additional details about these requirements will be provided here as they become available. Questions should be sent to [email protected]

Debt Collectors: Frequently Asked Questions

Debt Collection Advisory Committee

On April 29, 2021, the Department announced the formal creation of its inaugural debt collection advisory committee, a seven-member board that will provide critical feedback to the Department as it stands up its debt collection licensing program. The diverse group includes a consumer advocate and representatives from the debt collection, debt-buying, third-party collection, and collection law industries. The committee will advise the Commissioner on matters related to the debt collection business, including proposed fee schedules and other requirements.

In Texas, third-party debt collectors and credit bureaus are governed by Chapter 392 of the Finance Code, as well as any other applicable state or federal law.

What is a third-party debt collector?

With the exception of certain attorneys acting on behalf of their clients, a person who directly or indirectly engages in debt collection, including a person who sells or offers to sell forms represented to be a collection system, device, or scheme intended to be used to collect consumer debts.

Tex. Fin. Code § 392.001(6), (7).

What is a credit bureau?

A person who, for compensation, gathers, records, and disseminates information relating to the creditworthiness, financial responsibility, and paying habits of, and similar information regarding, a person for the purpose of furnishing that information to another person.

Tex. Fin. Code § 392.001(4).

FAQs for Third-Party Debt Collectors & Credit Bureaus

  1. Are third-party debt collectors and credit bureaus required to register with the secretary of state?
  2. How much does it cost to obtain a bond?
  3. Is there a filing fee for the bond?

FAQs for Third-Party Debt Collector & Credit Bureau Consumers

  1. How do I determine whether a third-party debt collector has filed a bond with the secretary of state?
  2. What recourse is available to a consumer for fraudulent or abusive collection practices?
  3. My question wasn’t answered here. Who do I call?

FAQs for Third-Party Debt Collectors & Credit Bureaus

Are third-party debt collectors and credit bureaus required to register with the secretary of state?

No, but third-party debt collectors and credit bureaus are required to file a $10,000 surety bond with the secretary of state before engaging in debt collection. Tex. Fin. Code. § 392.101. The bond must be in favor of the State of Texas for the benefit of any person damaged by any violation of Chapter 392, Finance Code. Id.

How much does it cost to obtain a bond?

The surety bonding company determines the cost of a surety bond. Contact the surety company to obtain the cost of the bond.

Is there a filing fee for the bond?

FAQs for Third-Party Debt Collector & Credit Bureau Consumers

How do I determine whether a third-party debt collector has filed a bond with the secretary of state?

The names of third-party debt collectors and credit bureaus that have filed bonds may be searched on our Debt Collector Search.

What recourse is available to a consumer for fraudulent or abusive collection practices?

Chapter 392, Finance Code, provides for both civil remedies and criminal penalties. Tex. Fin. Code §§ 392.402–.404. A consumer may take private legal action against a third-party debt collector or credit bureau for a violation of Chapter 392. In addition, a consumer may file a complaint with the attorney general if the consumer feels that the third-party debt collector or credit bureau has violated Chapter 392 by engaging in a false, misleading, or deceptive act or practice.

Engaging in debt collection without filing a bond with the secretary of state is a violation of Chapter 392 and may also be a criminal offense. Tex. Fin. Code § 392.402. The attorney general or a district or county attorney may investigate an alleged violation of Chapter 392. If you notify the secretary of state, this office will notify the third-party debt collector or credit bureau of the bond filing requirement and, if necessary, refer the matter to the attorney general for investigation. Please report the names of any third-party debt collectors and credit bureaus that do not have bonds on file to:

Registrations Unit
Statutory Documents Section
Office of the Secretary of State
P. O. Box 13193
Austin, Texas 78711-3193
(512) 475-0775

The secretary of state is a filing officer for third-party debt collector and credit bureau bonds and does not have authority to regulate the business practices of third-party debt collectors or credit bureaus. The secretary of state cannot resolve disputes about services or investigate business practices of a third-party debt collector or credit bureau.

You may also report any problems that you have with a third-party debt collector or credit bureau to the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC is authorized to take action against a third-party debt collector or credit bureau who violates the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Complaints with the FTC may be filed online or by calling 1-877-382-4357.

My question wasn’t answered here. Who do I call?

For additional information about filing a debt collection bond, please call (512) 475-0775. You can find further information relating to consumer rights from the Office of the Texas Attorney General or the Federal Trade Commission.