The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) makes many forms of threats illegal for debt collectors to make. Some of these are obvious, and some are a little more subtle. Remember that “debt collectors,” as defined by the FDCPA are either companies hired by creditors to collect money for them or businesses whose principle business is collecting debts. A guy who works for the original creditor is not a debt collector, but a guy who works for a business that is a debt collector is also, individually, a debt collector.
Debt Collectors Cannot Threaten Actions They Don’t Intend to Take
Debt collectors are not allowed to threaten to do anything to you that they do not intend to take or that they cannot, for any reason, take. That includes violence, obviously, but also other, possibly legitimate acts like filing suit or garnishing your wages–if the debt collector can’t do it.
Threats of Violence Are Prohibited by the FDCPA
Debt collectors may not use violence or the threat of violence towards a consumer or any other person in the collection of a debt, and this includes violence or harm to property. 1692d(A)(1). Of course these types of threats can also be criminal violations, but the FDCPA makes it easier to show, has a lower burden of what you must prove to establish liability, and includes a right to attorneys fees if you win. On the other hand, the penalties are lower.
This combination of circumstances: easier burden of proof, right to attorneys fees, and lower penalties would generally mean that you would allege both the violations of the FDCPA and the other laws, too. FDCPA claims do not preempt other claims: they are in addition.
Particular Acts Prohibited by the FDCPA
Some kinds of threats are pretty much only illegal in the debt collection context because they amount to a form of harassment. The FDCPA makes it illegal for a debt collector to threaten to take any kind of action they are not legally empowered to take, or that they do not intend to. 1692e(5). This includes the threat of filing a lawsuit by someone who cannot do so, or who has no intention of doing so. So, for example, if a debt collector threatens you with suit but then sells the debt to someone else instead, this might give rise to a claim against it.
Collectors may not threaten to sell the debt elsewhere and imply that doing so would deprive the consumer of any rights or remedies.
One thing I frequently hear from consumers is a fear that non-payment is some sort of crime and that they will be reported to the police. Owing money and not paying is not a crime (except in very limited circumstances). For a debt collector to suggest that it is or threaten to report or otherwise act in a way to disgrace the consumer violates the FDCPA. 1692e(7).