En español | Collections agencies train debt collectors to use tactics that encourage the account holder to pay their debt as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, some of these tactics can turn into abuse, harassment and manipulation.
See also: Credit Card Negotiation 101
U.S. consumers lodged a record 164,361 complaints about debt collectors from Jan. 1 through Dec. 8, 2011, according to the Federal Trade Commission. That was 17 percent more debt-collection complaints than the FTC received in all of 2010.
Among the most egregious of offenders was one California-based debt collector that told a woman who was unable to pay the balance on her daughter's funeral bill that collection agents were going to dig up the body and hang it from a tree if the mother didn't pay. FTC officials say the same woman was also told that the debt collectors would take her dog and eat it. That company was shut down by the FTC.
As outrageous as that scenario sounds, these and other abuses still happen.
Fortunately, the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) was designed to protect consumers from unfair and abusive debt collection practices.
The FTC has set forth several guidelines to ensure collection agencies don't resort to abusive practices. But if you feel like you're being harassed, abused or treated unfairly, make sure you know your rights under federal law.
Here's what you need to know about handling rude and abusive debt collectors:
What a Debt Collector Can't Do
By law, debt collectors "may not engage in any conduct the natural consequence of which is to harass, oppress or abuse any person in connection with the collection of a debt."