With the national unemployment rate at around 12% many Americans are getting behind in their bills. While most of us try to protect our credit, sometimes even good people get late in paying bills. Sadly, many debt collectors resort to unfair and downright mean tactics to extort payment even for small or newly outstanding debts. When the collectors start calling you at work or harassing you nightly with berating or abusive calls you can fight back. You can sue them for violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

The law sets a pretty easy system for identifying and suing the bad apple collectors for violations of the act. Under Federal law individuals can recover up to $1,000 for each abuse of their rights under the Act, and it allows for recovery for any associated damages caused by the violations and even allows for recovery for attorney fees incurred in filing the lawsuit. Further, even just one abusive phone call from a collector may be actually be multiple violations of the act and provide for multiple recoveries.

Some examples of violations include:

Improper Debt Collection Practices. Examples of this include providing false credit information or threats to destroy your credit, adding made up charges that are not part of the contract underlying the debt or adding charges that are illegal under State law to make the debt greater than what you legally owe are all improper and unfair debt collection practices

Unlawful Harassment: Name calling, swearing, repeated calls after being requested to stop are examples of the prohibited conduct sufficient to establish a violation of the Act for harassment.

Making Improper Threats. Threats to have you arrested (since the Civil War you cannot be arrested for a bad debt--that is called slavery) or baseless threats to sue you, if the collector has no real ability to do so. Also threats to take your home or other protected assets (your 401K) or threats to attach your wages if that cannot be done under the laws of your state.

Misrepresentations. If the debt collectors lie about how much you owe, or lie about the legal meaning of the debt documents (claiming they are court judgments when they are not) or claiming they are calling on behalf of governmental officials or even claiming that they are lawyers (when they are not) or that you are committing a criminal act by not paying the debt are all illegal misrepresentations resulting in a violation of the Act.

Illegal Contacts. Collectors cannot make calls that disturb or disrupt you at work or during your private time. For example, collection calls at work once you tell them to stop, or collection calls at home, before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m are all prohibited. You are also protected from calls made to disturb you. Calls to relatives, associates, friends or neighbors that are intended to pressure you into paying the debt are forbidden.

We all get behind in our bills now and then. That is not a crime. If you can pay your bills you should but if you cannot your life does not need to be destroyed from constant calls or threats from unscrupulous bill collectors. Most States protect your wages, home and retirement benefits from debt collectors. Don't give in to baseless threats that violate your rights. If you feel you are being harassed, tell them to stop. If they do not and if they violate the act you have protections and the harassing collectors may end up being the ones owing you for breaking the rules of conduct under the Fair Debt Collections Act!