The city of St. Petersburg is dedicated to ensuring its citizens are not cheated out of their hard-earned money. This includes being harassed by debt collectors for debt they do not owe.
At Morgan & Morgan, we have established a practice area designed to help people that are being harassed by debt and bill collectors. People who live in St. Petersburg that experience debt collection harassment could file a complaint with the Pinellas County Office of Consumer Protection, but there is no recourse to recover compensation for the abuse they may have endured.
Our consumer protection department has a successful track record of recovering damages for our clients, and is one of the only firms in the country to have collected punitive damages in a debt harassment case. With the assistance of a debt harassment attorney at our St. Petersburg office, you may have an opportunity to return to a harassment-free life and recover the compensation to which you are entitled.
If you have been harassed, or are unsure whether your debt collector’s actions qualify as harassment, please fill out our case review form today.
Do I Need a St. Petersburg Debt Harassment Attorney?
Many of our clients attempted to stop harassing creditors or bill collectors on their own, and were unsuccessful until they contacted our attorneys for help. Unfortunately, when a consumer tries to stop a harassing creditor without the assistance of an attorney, they may face several setbacks.
Some debt collectors will not be intimidated by consumers proceeding without an attorney, and may suspect that these individuals have little to no understanding of their legal rights. Furthermore, there are several steps that must be taken to stop a harassing creditor and, without the guidance of an experienced attorney, debtors can miss vital steps in this process.
Attempting to stop harassing creditors on your own can prove to be a difficult task, especially for those whose lives have already been disrupted by the harassment. When you hire an attorney, the debt collector must contact your legal representation—not you—in regard to your debt, which may provide some relief from the harassment.
If you elect to hire a debt harassment attorney in Florida, he or she can help you take the initial steps necessary to stop the harassment by:
- Sending a letter demanding communication with the debtor stop;
- Requesting validation and calculations of the debt; and
- Sending a letter to contest the debt.
- If the harassment does not cease, your attorney may choose to file a lawsuit. In preparing your claim, your attorney can:
- Review records you’ve kept (i.e. logs of phone calls, texts, voicemails, etc.);
- Subpoena phone records, if necessary;
- Dispatch private investigators to find information about the collector and their history ; and
- Review current cases in which your collector may be involved.
How Can an Attorney Help Me with “Zombie Debt”?
Debt collection agencies have realized the potential profitability of “zombie debt,” a term consumers have given to old debts which have gone unpaid. Collection agents purchase the old debt from the original creditor for less than its value and attempt to collect the full value of the debt from consumers whom they believe will pay.
If you have been contacted by a collection agency about an old debt, or a debt to which you are not legally obligated to pay, a St. Petersburg debt harassment attorney may be able to help you:
- Deny responsibility for the debt, even if you are unsure if you are liable.
- Avoid collectors’ traps. Your attorney should be able to recognize any tactics the collection agency employs, such as reporting old debt as new debt to the credit bureaus; making false promises about credit scores; or offering bait-and-switch credit card offers, in which your zombie debt is added without your knowledge.
- Ask for proof. Your attorney should ask for proof that the debt is your legal responsibility, including a request for the original credit agreement bearing your signature.
- Check Florida’s statute of limitations on debt collection. Your attorney will be able to tell you whether the window in which the debt may be collected or sought (through the courts) has closed. If the collector requests a revival to extend the statute of limitations, your attorney should draft a letter stating that your case does not meet the necessary Florida state law requirements.
- Send a letter via certified mail demanding the collector stops contacting you and threatening legal action if they persist.
- Watch your credit report to ensure it has not been negatively impacted.
Debt Harassment Laws
There are three main laws which offer consumers protection from debt harassment and remedies for violations of these statutes.
Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA): This federal act sets limitations on behaviors debt collectors may and may not engage in while attempting to collect debt from consumers. Additionally, it provides consumers who have been illegally harassed by debt collectors the right to sue for monetary and injunctive relief.
Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA): This federal act entitles consumers who receive robocalls from collectors on their cell phones to compensation—up to $1,500 per call.
Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (FCCPA): This Act was passed by Florida legislature expanding on the FDCPA to broaden the scope of protection for consumers. The FCCPA applies their regulations to debt collectors as well as creditors, the latter of which are not bound by the FDCPA regulations.
Types of Debt Collector Harassment, Violations and Scams
Harassment by debt collectors attempting to collect consumer debts is a violation of Florida state and federal law. The following are examples of common scams debt collectors use to harass consumers, as well as legal regulations they often fail to follow. Typically, debt collectors commit at least one violation of the law during the first phone call, and then commit many violations during the course of the collection process.
1. Harassment: While there is no precise definition for specific “harassing conduct,” there is a non-exhaustive list of examples in both Florida and federal legislation governing debt harassment. Common examples include numerous, daily phone calls to alleged debtors, their family, and friends; calls on back-to-back days; repeated calls with no messages; hang-ups; using social media networks such as Facebook; the use of robo-dialers; lies or misleading comments; speaking in a belittling manner; and embarrassing, argumentative, and rude conduct.
2. Collecting Debts Not Owed: No debt collector, including banks, mortgage companies, collection agencies, or other financial institutions may attempt to collect more than is owed. This includes late fees when the debtor has paid on time; penalties; higher interest rates; attorney costs; or any other miscellaneous costs that are not part of the principal or interest of the debt.
3. Threats: Debt collectors may not create a false sense of urgency through the use of threats in attempts to collect a debt. This can include suggesting the following: legal action will be taken; an arrest will be made; criminal prosecution will be pursued; the debtor could face potential jail time; threats of repossession of the alleged debtor’s property, including cars, homes, and furniture; garnishment of wages; or threats to ruin credit. Unless the collector has the intention to carry out these threats and the legal ability to do so, by way of a final judgment, it is illegal to engage in these behaviors.
4. Calls at Work: Any calls to the debtor’s place of employment are a violation of the law. These calls can include speaking with a co-worker or employer, calling the debtor’s cell phone at work, leaving messages regarding the debt, or calling the debtor’s direct line.
5. Contacting Third Parties: Debt collectors may not speak to any party about a debt without the express permission of the alleged debtor, including family members, neighbors, friends, employers, or co-workers. Third party contact is only permissible if it is in an attempt to locate the debtor.
6. Written Notice: Debt collectors must send the debtor a written notice stating the amount of the debt, the creditor to whom the debt is owed, and notification that the debtor has 30 days dispute the debt, in writing.
7. Proof of Debts: If the collector receives notice that a consumer has disputed a debt, they have 30 days to obtain written verification and validation of the amount of debt and to whom it is owed. Until the collector mails this to the debtor, along with supporting documentation, they may not contact the debtor or attempt to collect the debt.
8. Cease and Desist: Any and all communication with the debtor must immediately stop once a debt collector receives a “cease and desist” letter. There is no specific language required, only a directive that the debtor is no longer to be contacted.
9. No “Mini-Miranda”: In the initial communication, the debt collector must identify themselves as such to the debtor.
10. Contact after Attorney Representation: Once a bill collector is notified that the debtor is represented by an attorney, all communication with the debtor must stop. Any communications about the debt are required to be discussed with the debtor’s attorney.
What Compensation Can I Recover?
Statutory Damages: Under the FDCPA, debt collectors who violate the law’s provisions will be liable to the harassed consumer for up to $1000 in damages. The amount awarded will hinge on the frequency, duration, and veracity of the harassment. Under the TCPA, consumers receiving robo-calls on their cell phones may be awarded up to $1,500 per phone call.
Actual Damages: Additional damage compensation may include out-of-pocket costs or compensation for emotional distress and damage such as stress related injuries, which may include:
- Chest constrictions;
- Loss of appetite;
- Humiliation; and
- Pain and suffering.
Attorney Fees: If your suit prevails, the FDCPA permits the recovery of attorney fees.
If you have been harassed by a bill collector in violation of the FCCPA or FDCPA, you have legal recourse. To learn how a St. Petersburg debt harassment attorney may be able to help, please fill out our free case review form today.