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Multiple Calls from Collectors as Harassment

We hear many complaints from consumers that they are getting so many calls from the collector that it is harassing and abusive.  The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act deems it a violation of the law to harass a debtor, and one of the ways it can be done is through a campaign of constant calling.  This is done in the hopes that the consumer will just give in and make payment so that the calls will stop.  The statute says that a debt collector cannot  "caus[e] a telephone to ring...repeatedly or continuously with the intent to annoy, abuse, or harass the person at the called number."   15 U.S.C. 1692d(5).

The natural sense of the consumer is to feel abused if a debt collector calls more than one time a day, or even multiple times a week, even if it is only one time or less per day.  However, that is not necessarily a violation.  Surely, we feel harassed any time a collector is asking for money, but the law holds a little higher of a standard for a compensable violation.  Moreover, our opposition has crafted arguments against claims under 1692d(5) and some are successful. 

The first issue is the "called number" issue.  Many people have a home phone, a cell phone, and sometimes a work number as well.  If a collector calls each number just one time, it translates to three calls in a day to the consumer.  Is that enough for harassment?  Likely no.  Under certain circumstances it may, such as having a discussion just the day before with the collector wherein it was made clear that calls the next day would not be necessary.  However, most often those three calls will not pass for a claim because each number was just called once. 

This leads to the next issue, or defense we must face - that the calls were not made with the intent to annoy, abuse, or harass.  This is the argument that we see most often.   Collectors will claim that the attempt to call was merely to get in touch with the person and not to annoy or harass.  They will point to the fact that the calls were made various points of the day (such as 8:00 a.m., noon, and then 4:00 p.m.) to show that they were just seeing when was the best time to call.  Typically, when they do call three times in a single day, it is spread out throughout the whole day.  However, if the calls were all close in time, say within a single hour, then their excuse fails. 

Thus, whether a collector's multiple calls will be deemed harassment under the FDCPA is not cut and dry.  Ultimately, you will need to show some facts which can lead to the conclusion that the intent of the debt collector is to harass you into paying the debt. 

A final point in this area is that the person making the claim of harassment does not have to be the actual debtor.  By including the language "the person at the called number" Congress made it clear that the protection of this section extends not just to the debtor, but to anyone who has been called multiple times by the debt collector.  Thus, even if the collector has the wrong number, the person getting the calls may have a claim under the FDCPA.  We have seen this on many occasions where an innocent person received numerous calls.  The person who receives the calls warns the collector that they have the wrong number time and time again, only to continue receiving calls because someone will not update their records.  Another common scenario is when family members, usually parents, receive calls looking for their child who may owe money.  When the parent advises that their child moved out of the home years before, the collector ignores this and continues to call there looking for their money.    As it is seen here, the protections of the FDCPA from debt collector harassment extends beyond the debtors themselves. 

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