A Columbus Debt Collection Attorney Discusses Class Action Lawsuits Over Creditor Harassment
No one likes being in debt or getting off schedule with loan repayments. Owing money creates stress, and any number of personal, professional, or family crises can force individuals to make difficult budget choices. Putting off house payments may be the only option when lifesaving medical care becomes necessary following a car crash. Similarly, keeping up on a student loan may become impossible after one loses his or her job.
As bills pile up, the human instinct is to ignore the source of stress rather than attempt to work out alternate repayment plans and review statements for the appearance of excessive fees. While understandable, just hoping the late notices will stop or that things will turn around in time to prevent the worst creates more problems that eventually culminate in receiving letters and phone calls from a bank, credit card company, debt collection agency, or for-profit company that buys debts that other financial institutions have written off as complete losses. Those “communications,” as they are called under law, can quickly escalate to harassment and threats, which happens so often that federal and state regulators have found it necessary to enact and regularly strengthen statutes that place limits on what debt collectors can do in order to request and compel repayment.
The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and § 1321.45 of the Ohio Revised Code, titled Prohibited Debt Collector Communications and Conduct, will be of most interest to you as a reader of the Leist Warner Columbus class action litigation website. Even more important, you should now know that even though you may have delinquent debts, you still have rights and do not have to accept being bullied, threatened, or made even more financially insecure by collectors who refuse to stop calling, claim they can seize wages or property without court orders, or tack hidden and exorbitant fees onto overdue payments.
Know What Debt Collectors Cannot Do
In the wake of the Great Recession and its waves of job losses, home foreclosures, abandoned student loans, and car repossessions, the U.S. government established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to oversee enforcement of the FDCPA in conjunction with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Ohio assigns consumer protection activities to the Office of the Attorney General, and the state’s law regarding debt collections closely mirrors the FDCPA.
According to the feds, no debt collector can:
- Make threats of physical harm, arrest, or property damage;
- Threaten property seizures or wage garnishments when not permitted by law to do so;
- Threaten to sue without any justification or actual intention to do so, which includes trying to take people into court for debts they do not actually owe;
- Lie about amounts owed;
- Apply fees to outstanding debts over and above those allowed in the original loan papers or contract;
- Use obscenities and profane language over the phone or in writing;
- Call outside the hours of 8 am and 9 pm, or call people at work when asked in writing not to do so;
- Call repeatedly in order to harass people;
- Communicate any information via postcard;
- Ignore written requests to stop contacting individuals regarding debts, although getting calls stopped does not excuse any legitimate debt;
- Publish lists of the names of people who have outstanding debts;
- Lie about being a lawyer or government official;
- Falsely accuse people of committing crimes;
- Misrepresent documents as being or not being legal forms, government forms, or court orders;
- Provide false information to financial institutions, employers, or credit rating agencies;
- Lie about their identity or the name, location, and contact information for the company they represent;
- Deposit checks before the dates written on them; or
- Apply payments to debts other than those specified by the payer.
Courts Often Side With People Harassed by Debt Collectors
Private companies that attempt to generate profits from debts banks and credit card issuers have cancelled have a particularly dark history of mistreating people who owe money. The FTC has partnered with several states to rein in illegal and unethical business practices, but new cases of individuals receiving threats and unjustly losing money to debt collectors arise almost daily. A quick check of the FTC’s debt collection news page revealed four press releases with titles like “FTC Sues to Stop Deceptive Debt Relief Operation” during the first two months of 2015 alone.
Many such improper debt collection cases are class action lawsuits, meaning that every person who can be identified as a victim of the debt collection company’s illegal or harassing activities will receive relief. That relief usually comes in the forms of partial or total debt forgiveness and cash awards for damages ranging from financial losses to medical bills for illnesses or injuries brought on by abuse or stress. To see a good example of how this works, check out this article about Bank of America agreeing to pay fines to the U.S. Treasury and to reimburse members of the military, veterans, and military dependents who were improperly assessed loan fees.
Take Action Against Abusive and Dishonest Debt Collectors
If you live in Ohio and are receiving threats or getting overcharged by any organization attempting to collect a debt, contact Leist Warner. We can guide you through your options and ensure you are educated on your rights. You should not suffer simply because you fell behind on your bills.
Few debt collectors act criminally and unethically only a single time. By successfully suing a harassing and abusive debt collector, you can begin putting your finances back in order while also protecting other people from threats and losses.
Debt collection attorneys with Leist Warner have experience holding debt collectors to their legal obligations and representing plaintiffs in class action cases. To see if we can help you, call us at (614) 222-1000 or fill out this form to share your story.