More than a quarter (27%) of consumers who’ve interacted with debt collectors said they felt threatened by the most recent creditor or collector who contacted them, according to a new survey from the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB).
That may not sound surprising, given debt collectors don’t have a reputation for being friendly, but it’s a noteworthy discovery. It’s illegal for debt collectors to harass or verbally abuse consumers.
Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a debt collector cannot “harass, oppress or abuse any person in connection with the collection of a debt.” That includes things like threatening to hurt or arrest you, using obscene or profane language or using repeated phone calls to annoy you. They’re also not allowed to lie to consumers. The CFPB’s survey results indicate those rules often aren’t being followed.
A bit more on that data: It’s based on survey responses from 2,132 consumers the bureau contacted between December 2014 and March 2015. Of those respondents, 32% (682 people) said they had been contacted by a creditor or debt collector about paying a debt within the last year. The results are weighed to represent “the broader population of consumers with credit records.”
It’s worth noting that consumers saying they felt threatened doesn’t mean the collector they talked to broke the law. Still, 27% is a high occurrence rate of potentially illegal behavior. Additionally, reports of threatening debt collectors wasn’t the only issue raised by survey respondents: About 40% of consumers who’d been contacted about debts in collection said they asked a collector or creditor to stop contacting them and, of those consumers, about 75% said the collector continued to contact them anyway. Legally, a debt collector must stop contacting a consumer if that consumer sent a written request to the collector to stop communicating with them, with a few exceptions.
ACA International, the largest trade group for the debt collection industry, took issue with the survey’s methodology, among other things, in a statement it issued denouncing the CFPB’s report.
“This represents only one eight-millionth of 1% of the approximately 77 million Americans with debts in collections,” the statement says, referencing the 682 survey respondents who reported being contacted by a debt collector. “Despite the calculated, incendiary message that the CFPB public relations machine released, the insights from the survey are not necessarily representative of consumers’ actual experiences and do not come anywhere close to rising to a level that can be extrapolated across tens of millions of consumers.”
If you ever find yourself dealing with a debt collector, it’s a good idea to take the time to familiarize yourself with your rights and the rules debt collectors have to follow when contacting you. You can report any issues you encounter to your state’s attorney general, the Federal Trade Commission or the CFPB, and you’ll want to keep an eye on your credit reports and scores to see how the collection account affects you. (You can get a free summary of your credit report, with updates every 14 days, on Credit.com.)
Image: Christopher Futcher