If you’re behind on your bills, you’ll probably get calls from debt collectors. Their job is to get you to pay or make arrangements to pay. But any debt collector who harasses or threatens you is breaking the law. The Federal Trade Commission’s cases against Credit Smart and Regional Adjustment Bureau highlight the facts of life every consumer facing debt collection should know.

The FTC alleged that Credit Smart used illegal tactics to pressure people into paying debts. According to the FTC’s complaint, the company threatened to garnish people’s wages and sue them for nonpayment — sometimes even for time-barred debts. The FTC’s complaint alleges that Credit Smart sometimes told people they owed debts and interest without having a reasonable basis to say so, misrepresented themselves as working for attorneys or as financial relief counselors, and failed to tell people they were debt collectors.

The Regional Adjustment Bureau, according to the FTC, falsely accused consumers of owing debts, contacted them at work when they knew employers did not permit the calls, made unauthorized withdrawals from consumers’ accounts, and revealed confidential information about debtors to third parties.

These alleged actions violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which is enforced by the FTC. By law, debt collectors may not:

  • Call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
  • Contact you at work if you’ve told them verbally or in writing that your employer doesn’t allow you to get such calls in the workplace
  • Contact a third party, such as a friend or non-spouse family member, about you for any reason other than getting your contact information
  • Harass or abuse you or anyone else they contact about you
  • Lie about the amount you owe
  • Use deceptive methods to collect a debt from you. For example, they may not:
    • Claim to be law enforcement officers
    • Claim that you’ll be arrested if you don’t pay your debt
    • Threaten to seize, garnish, attach or sell your property or your wages — unless they are permitted by law to do it and intend to do so
    • Give false credit information about you to anyone, including a credit reporting company
    • Use a fake company name