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What is an unfair, deceptive or abusive practice by a debt collector?

Federal law makes it illegal for debt collectors to use unfair or abusive practices or deceptive statements to collect a debt.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect debts from you, including:

  • Misrepresenting the nature of the debt, including the amount owed
  • Falsely claiming that the person contacting you is an attorney
  • Threatening to have you arrested
  • Threatening to do things that can’t legally be done or threatening to do things that the debt collector has no intention of doing.

Examples of unfair practices

Here are a few examples of what the FDCPA would consider a prohibited practice used to collect on a debt. Debt collectors are not allowed to:

  • Try to collect charges in addition to the debt unless they are allowed by the contract or law
  • Communicate or attempt to communicate with you in connection with the collection of a debt through a social media platform if the communication or attempt to communicate is viewable by the general public or the person’s social media contacts
  • Communicate with you by sending an email that the debt collector knows is provided to you by your employer, unless an exception applies
  • Use any language or symbol on an envelope for correspondence with you that indicates it is a debt collector, other than the debt collector’s address or business name that doesn’t indicate it’s in the debt collection business

Examples of false or deceptive statements

Debt collectors are not allowed to falsely claim or imply that:

  • They are attorneys or government representatives
  • You have committed a crime by not paying a debt
  • They operate or work for a credit reporting company
  • You will be arrested or imprisoned if you don’t pay
  • They will garnish or seize your wages, bank account, or property
  • Documents that they send you are legal documents if they aren’t

Examples of harassment by a debt collector

A debt collector is also not allowed to harass, oppress, or abuse you or anyone else they contact. This includes repetitious phone calls with the intent to harass, use of obscene or profane language, and threats of violence or harm.

Learn more about what’s considered an abusive practice

What to do if you think a debt collector violated the law

If you believe a debt collector is using an unfair, deceptive or abusive practice to collect a debt, you can submit a complaint with the CFPB and the Federal Trade Commission .

There are also state and other federal laws that generally prohibit practices that might be considered unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices. You can report the incidents to your state's attorney general .