Can a debt collector threaten to ruin my reputation?

If a debt collector threatens to ruin your reputation, this is a violation of the FDCPA and possibly state law.

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If a debt collector threatens to ruin your reputation in an attempt to get you to pay a debt, this is a direct violation of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). In some states, a creditor that threatens your reputation in an effort to collect a debt can also be in violation of the law.

Read on to learn how this violates the FDCPA, and what you can do if a debt collector threatens to ruin your reputation.

(For more articles on what debt collectors can and cannot do, visit our Illegal Debt Collections topic area.)

The Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

The purpose of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is to protect consumers against deceptive and abusive debt collection practices used by debt collectors who are trying to collect a consumer debt. A consumer debt is a debt owed for personal, home or a family purpose. Under the FDCPA, a debt collector is any person who regularly collects debts owed to others. It does not apply to original creditors.

(To learn more, see Illegal Debt Collections Under the FDCPA.)

Debt Collectors Cannot Threaten to Ruin Your Reputation

Under the FDCPA, a debt collector may not engage in any conduct which is intended to harass, oppress, or abuse any person in connection with the collection of a debt.

The FDCPA specifically prohibits a debt collector from threatening to ruin your reputation. In addition, depending on how the debt collector makes those threats, he or she may also be violating other provisions of the FDCPA .

No obscene or profane language. If, in making threats about your reputation, the debt collector uses unseemly language or swears, this violates the FDCPA.

Cannot publish or threaten to publish a deadbeat list. If the debt collector threatens to ruin your reputation by publishing your name on a list of debtors who refuse to pay their debts, this is a direct violation of the FDCPA. (Although a collector can report your delinquency to a consumer reporting agency.)

Advertising for sale the debtor's debt. A debt collector cannot threaten to publicly advertise and sell your debt as a means to get you to pay. This tactic, which is used to embarrass the debtor and could threaten the debtor's reputation, is a blatant violation of the FDCPA.

No harrassing phone calls. The FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from calling you repeatedly or continuously with the intent to annoy, abuse, or harass you. If a debt collector continuously calls you with threats to ruin your reputation, this would violate this provision of the FDCPA.

What Can You Do If a Debt Collector Threatens Your Reputation?

In cases where a debt collector is threatening to ruin the reputation of the debtor, the debtor can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), or sue the debt collector for violating the FDCPA. Under the FDCPA, the possible civil liability to a debt collector who has violated the law could include:

  • actual damages sustained by the debtor as a result of the debt collector's failure to follow the law, not to exceed $1,000 per violation
  • punitive damages (in cases where punitive damages are sought, the court will consider the nature, frequency, and persistency of the violations and the extent to which they were intentional), and
  • costs and attorneys' fees
A lawsuit against a debt collector for violations of the FDCPA can be brought in U.S. District Court or any other court of competent jurisdiction. A debtor only has one year from the date in which the violation occurred to start such an action.

Violations of State Fair Debt Collection Laws

Some states have laws that regulate the behavior of debt collectors. In many of those states, threatening to ruin a debtor's reputation would qualify as a violation. Some state laws also cover creditors who collect their own debts (for example, California). In those states, if a creditor threatens to ruin your reputation, you may have a cause of action as well. You may also have additional state law claims for invasion of privacy, defamation of character as well as other causes of action.

To learn about various state fair debt laws, visit our State Fair Debt Collection Laws topic page.

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