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Harassment by Debt Collectors

Harassment by Debt Collectors

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Mark Cappel
UpdatedMay 28, 2024
Key Takeaways:
  • Learn what to do if a collector is harassing you.
  • Find out what legal options a debt collector has.
  • Understand what can happen when an account goes to collections.

What can I do about debt collectors harassing me?

I am in the process of working with a company "relief LLC" to get my payday loans paid off, I have been receiving threatening phone calls (30 of them yesterday) and after I told them not to call me again, they called me 10 more times. The company is United Legal Services. They would not give me any information as to the case number or anything and they told me if I did not pay off the case, that the cops would be at my place of work and arrest me. I notified Relief LLC and the Michigan Dept where complaints for default loan harassment is. Relief LLC said that these companies can not press legal charges or have me arrested. That these companies will work with Relief LLC and they are just using scare tactics. I believe Relief LLC, but I just want to know what more I can do if anything.

As you suspected, the collection agent provided you inaccurate legal information. Collection agents are not your attorney. Do not believe legal advice from collection agents because the information they provide is usually incomplete or wrong, and is always self-serving.

A creditor or collection agent may pursue legal action against a debtor in civil, not criminal court. District attorneys decide whether to issue an arrest warrant and prosecute cases in criminal court. Creditors or collection agents may not have an individual arrested. As mentioned, defaulting on a debt is a civil matter, not a criminal matter.

In some states a sheriff may come to a debtor's home or place of business and serve them with a summons to appear in court, but a summons is not an arrest warrant. There are cases, however, where a person who ignores a summons has had a bench warrant issued that resulted in being held in jail.

Consult With an Attorney if Harassed

A collection agent may use aggressive tactics to when contacting the debtor, but not all aggressive tactics are legal. For instance, a collection agent may threaten to call the debtor's employer, file charges with the local sheriff, or say they will park a truck in front of the debtor's house with a sign that reads "Bad Debt" on it. All of these tactics and many others, are illegal under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).

To learn more about your rights under the FDCPA, visit the Federal Trade Commission's Fair Debt Collections Practices Act FAQ. Below I will provide you with information as to what you should understand about the collection process.

If you have problems paying your credit card debts, consult with a debt resolution partner who can discuss your options.

If you believe a collection agent violated your rights under the FDCPA, consult with a consumer rights attorney in your area to discuss possibly filing a lawsuit against the collection agency; not only could a lawsuit result in your debt being canceled, but you could be awarded damages. You can locate an experienced consumer rights attorney in your area by visiting

Receive a Summons

A debt collector that owns a debt account is a creditor. A creditor has several legal means of collecting a debt. But, before the creditor can force the debtor to pay the debt, the creditor must go to court to receive a judgment. A court (or in some states, a law firm for the plaintiff) is required to notify the debtor of the time and place of the hearing. This notice is called a "summons to appear" or a "summons and complaint." In some jurisdictions, a process server will present the summons personally. In others the sheriff's deputy will pay a visit with the summons, and in others the notice will appear in the mail. Each jurisdiction has different civil procedure rules regarding proper service of notice. (See Served Summons and Complaint to learn more about this process.)

If you ever receive a summons, you should do as it instructs! This is not just a social invitation that you can ignore. In the hearing, the judge will decide if the creditor should be allowed to collect the debt. If the debtor fails to appear, the judge has no choice but to decide on behalf of the creditor.

Therefore, if you receive a summons, the first thing you should do is contact the law firm representing the creditor. If you truly owe the debt and feel that it has not yet reached its statute of limitations, then open a negotiation to settle the debt. If you can't reach an agreement, respond as indicated in the summons. If there is a hearing, attend it and present your side of the story to the judge. Use facts, tell the truth, dress appropriately, and show the court respect. The court may or may not decide in your favor, but at least you exercised your right to be heard.


The court may decide to grant a judgment to the creditor. A judgment is a declaration by a court that the creditor has the legal right to demand a wage garnishment, a levy on the debtor's bank accounts, and a lien on the debtor's property. Which of these tools the creditor will use depends on the circumstances. We discuss each of these remedies below.

Wage Garnishment

The most common method used by judgment creditors to enforce judgments is wage garnishment, in which a judgment creditor would contact the debtor's employer and require the employer to deduct a certain portion of the debtor's wages each pay period and send the money to the creditor. However, several states, including Texas, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and South Carolina, do not allow wage garnishment for the enforcement of most judgments. In several other states, such as New Hampshire, wage garnishment is not the "preferred" method of judgment enforcement because, while possible, it is a tedious and time consuming process for creditors. In most states, creditors are allowed to garnish between 10% and 25% of your wages, with the percentage allowed being determined by each state. See Advice on Judgment Garnishment to learn more about wage garnishment.

Levy Bank Accounts

A levy means that the creditor has the right to take whatever money in a debtor's account and apply the funds to the balance of the judgment. Again, the procedure for levying bank accounts, as well as what amount, if any, a debtor can claim as exempt from the levy, is governed by state law. Many states exempt certain amounts and certain types of funds from bank levies, so a debtor should review his or her state's laws to find if a bank account can be levied. See the resource State Consumer Protection Laws and Exemptions for an overview of each state’s rules.


A lien is an encumbrance -- a claim -- on a property. For example, if the debtor owns a home, a creditor with a judgment has the right to place a lien on the home, meaning that if the debtor sells or refinance the home, the debtor will be required to pay the judgment out of the proceeds of the sale or refinance. If the amount of the judgment is more than the amount of equity in your home, then the lien may prevent the debtor from selling or refinancing until the debtor can pay off the judgment. Again, every state has its own rules about property liens, so debtors with a judgment against them who own property should review their state's laws to learn creditor can and cannot do to enforce its judgment. See the resource State Consumer Protection Laws and Exemptions for an overview of each state's rules.

I hope this information helps you Find. Learn & Save.



Debt statistics

Mortgages, credit cards, student loans, personal loans, and auto loans are common types of debts. According to the NY Federal Reserve total household debt as of Q1 2024 was $17.69 trillion. Housing debt totaled $12.82 trillion and non-housing debt was $4.88 trillion.

A significant percentage of people in the US are struggling with monthly payments and about 26% of households in the United States have debt in collections. According to data gathered by from a sample of credit reports, the median debt in collections is $1,739. Credit card debt is prevalent and 3% have delinquent or derogatory card debt. The median debt in collections is $422.

Collection and delinquency rates vary by state. For example, in Virginia, 16% have student loan debt. Of those holding student loan debt, 7% are in default. Auto/retail loan delinquency rate is 4%.

To maintain an excellent credit score it is vital to make timely payments. However, there are many circumstances that lead to late payments or debt in collections. The good news is that there are a lot of ways to deal with debt including debt consolidation and debt relief solutions.



LLeland Scott, Jun, 2018

Put a call block app on your phone and block each call from a bill collector. Hang up the moment they reveal who they are. Do not talk with them as they are notorious liars. Dispute anything they put on your credit report, especially it if is something you are making payments on. I incurred quite a few medical bills this winter from a 6 day hospital stay due to a large kidney stone wedged between my kidney and bladder. I am also having to pay an attorney ($300 an hour) to rescue my 22-years old disabled son from his present abusive guardian and have me named as guardian instead. They will just have to accept small payments until I am done with that. Eventually, I will be in a position to make an offer for well less than the bill is and let them know that is their only alternative. I have done this before and every medical facility I have owed money has negotiated down to 50% of the bill. The catch is you have to pay the negotiated amount off immediately so don't do it until you can afford to do so or get a loan to do so.

RRob, Jan, 2014
I got a Sears credit card when I was 18 and it was maxed out quickly and has remained unpaid since (I'm 35). It has gone from collection agency to collection agency over the years, but has long been off of my credit report. I assumed they forgot about me. Just recently, I've been receiving phone calls from the newest collection agency requesting payment. After I explain that it's not on my credit and well beyond the statute of limitations they call me a thief. Am I legally (not morally) obligated to pay this debt and if not, are they legally allowed request this be paid (or cry thief)? Thank you.
BBill, Jan, 2014
I can't give you legal advice, but will share my non-legal opinion with you.

You are not obligated to pay a non-judgment debt from nearly 17 years ago. The statute of limitations on debt has almost assuredly run out, barring you having taken some action that tolled the statute.

A debt collector can't harass or abuse you. You need to speak with an attorney that handles cases involving violations of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA), to see if the name-calling is actionable.
SS, Apr, 2013
I have an agreement through a county court to pay a set 24-month fee to JPMorgan Chase & Co. The case was settled out of court and am on my 7th month of payments. I also owe Discover Card. Because I am already paying back JPMorgan Chase & Co., can I tell Discover Card to wait until I complete my payment agreement with Chase?
BBill, Apr, 2013
Out-of-court settlements are private agreements between the two parties, and do not affect the rights others may have. Here, your out-of-court settlement agreement with JPMorgan does not bar Discover from filing a lawsuit against you.

One option you have is to open a negotiation with Discover where you lay your cards on the table regarding your settlement with JPMorgan, and explain you want to honor your commitment to both JPMorgan and Discover, but that Discover will have to wait until you complete your existing payment plan. Then when that plan is complete, you promise to pay Discover $X for Y months to settle that debt. Discover may agree to your proposal, or reject it. Explain that if Discover rejects your proposal you will look seriously at a chapter 7 bankruptcy, whereby Discover will collect exactly $0.
DDJ, Feb, 2013
My Granddaughter, 20 now, incurred a bill while under the age of 18 from a medical doctor. I was her legal guardian at that time, and am now her legal guardian as she is an adult with an impairment. She began receiving calls from a bill collector, who I have tried to work with. They have refused to send me a statement showing the charges incurred and payments made. I had requested to receive this statement from the doctors office back on 12/10/2011. The statements I was receiving only showed a balance due and increased each month significantly. The debt collector refuses to send the statement so I can validate the charges and pay if needed. Instead, they have continued to threaten to take my granddaughter to court. Can they sue her?
BBill, Feb, 2013
When a creditor, be it a collection agent or original creditor, contacts a consumer about a delinquent debt, the creditor must notify the consumer of his or her right to request a debt validation. Did you or your granddaughter do so in writing within 30 days of the initial contact?

If you or your granddaughter missed the 30-day deadline, then the creditor is not obligated to validate the debt. Read more about the debt validation rule in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

You raise an interesting question about the validity of a debt incurred while a person is a minor. Generally, courts will not enforce contracts against minors. There is an exception some states carved out for contracts relating to necessities, and the medical procedure here may be considered a necessity. Or it may not, depending on the circumstances and the procedure.

If your question is whether a creditor is allowed to file an action (a lawsuit) against a person with disabilities, the answer is "yes." Put another way, disabled people have no immunity from lawsuits.

Consult with a lawyer in your state who has consumer law experience. Your lawyer will look at the circumstances surrounding the debt in more detail than the cursory discussion I offered here, and will also probe the threats by the collection agent. Why? It is against the FDCPA for a collection agent to threaten to sue a consumer when the collection agent has no plans to do so.