Stop a debt collector’s empty threats

Calls from debt collectors can add to the stress of having financial problems. When those calls involve harassment, threats and intimidation, the situation can get even worse — especially if you don’t know your rights.

The FTC enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) to protect consumers from deceptive, abusive, or unfair debt collection tactics. On June 23, 2014, the FTC filed a joint complaint with the State of New York against National Check Registry for violating the FDCPA by allegedly using outrageous and intimidating methods to get people to pay debts immediately — often debts that were in dispute.

Among the alleged tactics that National Check Registry used was telling people they had committed check fraud or another crime and threatening them with lawsuits, garnishments, arrest or imprisonment if they didn’t pay. The FTC and the State of New York alleged that National Check Registry routinely told people they had to pay within 12 or 24 hours to avoid having a local court system or law enforcement agency come after them. Frequently, the company would tell a person’s family, friends and coworkers that the person committed a crime or was involved in a legal proceeding.

In fact, these were empty threats. According to the complaint, National Check Registry has no authority to make arrests or seek other criminal punishments for failure to pay these debts.  

If you are facing debt collection, understand your rights. Under the FDCPA, debt collectors are not allowed to:

  • call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
  • contact you at work if you’ve told them verbally or in writing that your employer doesn’t allow you to get such calls in the workplace
  • harass or abuse you or anyone else they contact about you
  • lie about the amount you owe
  • use deceptive methods to collect a debt from you. For example, they may not:
    • falsely claim to be law enforcement officers
    • claim that you’ll be arrested if you don’t pay your debt
    • threaten to seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or your wages — unless they are permitted by law to do it and intend to do so
    • give false credit information about you to anyone, including a credit reporting company
    • use a fake company name

Collectors usually are prohibited from contacting third parties more than once. Other than to obtain location information about you, a debt collector generally is not allowed to discuss your debt with anyone other than you, your spouse or your attorney.

Be sure to file a complaint with the FTC if you think that a debt collector has violated your rights.

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