Almost every week we talk to people who have received a threatening phone call from a ‘debt collector’. We’re told the phone call goes something like this: “If you don’t pay me money over the phone right now, I am going to have the sheriff/police come to your work (or your home) and have you arrested for not paying this debt. It’s against the law to not pay this debt. We are going to have you arrested for breaking the law and the sheriff/police will be on their way to put you in handcuffs and take you away in front of your coworkers/children/friends if you don’t pay something right now.”
Almost every week we talk to people who have received a threatening phone call from a “debt collector”. We’re told the phone call goes something like this:
“If you don’t pay me money over the phone right now, I am going to have the sheriff/police come to your work (or your home) and have you arrested for not paying this debt. It’s against the law to not pay this debt. We are going to have you arrested for breaking the law and the sheriff/police will be on their way to put you in handcuffs and take you away in front of your coworkers/children/friends if you don’t pay something right now.”
That’s a terrifying phone call to receive; especially when the person calling you is adamant the police will be showing up at your workplace or home any moment to take you away in handcuffs if you don’t pay. What’s worse, the “debt collectors” calling with these claims of criminal action are abusive and often will curse and scream at you.
Here’s the truth: IT’S A SCAM! I have placed “debt collectors” in quotation marks, because they are not legitimately attempting to collect a debt. The ironic thing is, by threatening you with jail, the person calling you is breaking the law! The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1601 et seq., prevents, among other things, debt collectors from harassment, oppression, or abuse of an individual in connection with a debt. Specifically, debt collectors cannot threaten the use of criminal means or use obscene language when speaking with you regarding a debt.
In the stories we have heard, most often the caller is attempting to collect money for a bill you were sure you had paid, or a bill that you may have already listed in a bankruptcy case you filed and received a discharge on (so it’s no longer due), or a bill from such a long time ago that you aren’t sure if you really owe it or not. The “collector” calling knows this, which is why they use fear to rush you into paying money to them to avoid your worst nightmare of potential criminal action and/or arrest.
At the end of the day, there are very limited occasions you can be arrested for not paying a debt. You can face potential criminal action if you write a check from your bank account and the bounced check remains unpaid to the business to which you wrote the check. If this is a situation you are facing, the business may contact you to let you know the check bounced and needs to be paid. More likely than not, it will be a recent transaction. You will have the opportunity to verify the check number and status of payment with your bank, and the business should be able to verify the check number and information written on the check to confirm it is in fact a valid debt you owe.
If you receive a phone call from someone threatening you will be arrested, ask a few simple questions of them. What is the name of their company? What is their mailing address, phone number and fax number? To which business do you owe the original debt for which they are calling? Request they send you an explanation of the debt to you. Do not give out any of your personal information such as your social security number, bank account information, or employer. If the business is a legitimate debt collector, they will give you the information you have requested.
If you have previously filed bankruptcy and know the debt for which the person is calling was included in your bankruptcy case, tell the caller you received a discharge in bankruptcy and no longer owe that money. It is a violation of the Bankruptcy Code for the lender to attempt to collect a debt that has been discharged in bankruptcy. If an address of the caller can be secured, it may be possible to pursue legal action against them for the violation, and depending on the severity of the circumstances. Unfortunately, many of the scam “collection” calls will not provide you with any information as to where its business is located as they know they are breaking the law, so no legal action can be taken against them.
If you are struggling with phone calls from legitimate debt collectors who are calling your personal phone, your work, or even your family, to inquire about payment for a debt you owe, we can help! Once you have retained our office, you can refer the debt collectors to our office as your attorney. The collectors are obligated to cease phone communications with you at that point.