A debt collector threatened to give my account to his lawyer for "prosecution." Is this legal?

Bill collector threats of prosecution probably violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Learn why.

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Question

A debt collector threatened to give my account to his lawyer for "prosecution." Is this legal?

Answer

Probably not, for several reasons.

First, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) prohibits a bill collector from making threats of legal action when it has no actual intent to do so. A creditor or debt collector certainly has the right to sue you, but a debt collector can't blow smoke about it. This bill collector refers to the existence of an “invisible lawyer” who is poised to sue you. While you won't know for certain if the collector is telling the truth until you actually receive a lawsuit, it is unlikely that the threat is sincere. Here's why:

Unless there is some arrangement between the debt collector and the creditor, a debt collection agency typically only makes money on your account as long as it has your file. This means that collectors are unlikely to turn your account over to a collection attorney unless they have exhausted every attempt to get money from you. Also, collection attorneys typically represent the creditor, not the debt collector (unless there was a prior arrangement between those parties). All of this means that it's unlikely that the collector actually has a lawyer in the wings -- which means it's representation to the contrary would be false.

Second, this debt collector is threatening take it to his attorney for “prosecution,” which sounds a lot like a threat of criminal action. (You don't prosecute civil actions, you just bring a lawsuit.) By using this terminology, the debt collector seems to imply that it has a special power to “prosecute” you criminally. But threatening criminal action is also prohibited under the FDCPA.

For more information on what bill collectors can and cannot do, and remedies if a debt collector violates the law, visit Nolo's Illegal Debt Collection Practices topic area.

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