When Debt Collectors Make Empty Threats

Madeleine Jones
June 21, 2017

desperate woman with money on blackboard, FDCPA ViolationDebt collectors use many methods to try to pressure people into paying their debts immediately. Some of these techniques are intimidating, embarrassing, and even illegal. When a collection agency or other type of entity uses unlawful methods to attempt to collect a past due balance, victims have the right to file a claim against the violator and sometimes collect damages when appropriate.

What Are Illegal Threats by Debt Collectors?

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), consumers are protected from abusive, deceptive or unfair debt collection tactics- including illegal or empty threats. Unfortunately, an FDCPA violation attorney typically sees numerous victims throughout his or her career who have been targeted by collectors using illegal collection methods despite the Act. These consumers are usually contacted by letters, phone calls, and recorded messages. In some situations, third parties like friends, family members, and even employers are contacted as well. In many cases, empty threats make up a portion of the abusive, harassing and illegal tactics used by collectors. Debt collectors are forbidden from threatening consumers with actions they cannot legally (or will not) take including:

  • Garnishing the debtor’s wages
  • Confiscating, attaching or selling the victim’s property (unless they are legally able and intend to do so)
  • Threatening to have the debtor arrested or telling third parties that the victim has committed a crime
  • Threatening violence
  • Threatening job loss or credit damage
  • Threatening to file charges against the debtor

How Big is the Problem and What is Being Done About Debt Collectors’ Empty Threats?

About 30 million Americans have at least one account in collections and debt collection techniques are a top complaint received by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In September of 2015, these complaints made up about 30 percent of the total complaints received by the CFPB. Still, illegal debt collection practices including the use of empty threats have escalated in recent years. As a result, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has begun teaming up with various other government agencies to stop violating debt collectors in their tracks. In 2015 alone, the FTC won more than $88 million in judgments against violating debt collectors.

When consumers feel that they are victims of empty or illegal threats by debt collectors, they can file civil suits against the violators. They can be awarded damages for losses incurred, attorneys fees and courts costs, and up to $1,000 in additional damages if their claims are successful.