Unfair debt collection practices continue to plague our region. Many of our clients have experienced harassing phone calls; demands for payments not truly owed; illegal threats of bogus consequences for failing to pay, up to and including imprisonment; or lawsuits to collect stale debts that are barred by the applicable statute of limitations. These abuses are disturbingly common.
Abusive debt collection practices can take a terrible toll, emotionally and practically. Beyond the fear, stress and embarrassment, families can have their bank accounts frozen, making it impossible to pay for their most basic needs. Debt collectors frequently place incorrect information on people’s credit reports, impairing their ability to secure credit, housing and even employment on some occasions.
Debt collection has become the number one source of complaints at both the Federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission. Consumer complaint data indicates the most common grievances are mistaken information and what the CFPB calls “aggressive communication tactics and threats.”
Reports demonstrate no shortage of appalling anecdotes. A West Virginia family recently had their furniture, clothes and personal belongings taken to the town dump after a bank and its debt collector foreclosed on the wrong home. Another West Virginia woman was sued for a medical debt that she had already paid in full.
The prevalence in debt-collection problems appears to be a combination of aggressive lending in prior years contributing to a rise in payment delinquency and an explosion of new debt buyers and a deterioration of industry practices. Having paid pennies on the dollar for the right to go after a portfolio of purportedly delinquent debtors, many debt buyers fail to determine the validity of the data they purchased. Often, years have passed and misinformation has become engrained into the collection process. Rather than perform due diligence, collectors often adopt a shotgun approach, hoping to frighten a few people into paying opposed to pursuing their rights.
Fortunately, for West Virginians, strong state remedies exist. Penalties of over $1,000 for each act (i.e. call or letter) that violates state law are provided, along with the right to recover your actual damages, including for your emotional distress, and your attorneys’ fees.
Consider contacting us if you have been subjected to the practices described herein, including:
- threats that non-payment will result in arrest or garnishing wages without informing the consumer that a judicial order is necessary for any garnishment;
- the collection of old debt that may be passed the statute of limitations;
- collection or threatened assessment of attorneys’ fees;
- the communication with any employer of information relating to an employee's indebtedness;
- the disclosure of information relating to a consumer's indebtedness to any relative or family member of the consumer if such person is not residing with the consumer;
- any communication with a consumer whenever it appears that the consumer is represented by an attorney;
- any false representation of the extent or amount of a debt, or of its status in any legal proceeding;
- any false reports by creditors to credit reporting agencies and
- auto-dialed collection calls made to your cell phone without your permission.