Getting Harassed by Creditors? NC Law Can Protect You

Being called incessantly by creditors can be a harrowing experience. While many debt collectors are courteous and professional, some creditors and collection agencies use abusive tactics in an effort to force a person into paying them what they claim is owed. Fortunately, such practices are illegal in North Carolina, and give rise to civil liability.

How Is a Debtor Protected?
What this means is that debt collectors may not use threats or coercion to try to make a debtor pay an alleged debt. “Threats or coercion” includes, but is not limited to, threats of violence; making (or threatening to make to another person) false accusations of fraud or crime; claiming that failure to pay the debt will result in arrest; or threatening to take any action not permitted by law.

Even more importantly, the law protects a debtor from harassment. Debt collectors are forbidden from using “any conduct, the natural consequence of which is to oppress, harass, or abuse any person in connection with the attempt to collect any debt.” That means, among other things, that debt collectors can’t curse at a person, cause the phone to ring an unreasonable number of times (or at times when they know the debtor won’t be awake), or call at work if requested not to do so. In most cases, debt collectors are also forbidden from lying or telling the general public about the debt they claim is owed. For instance, they have to inform the person called that they are trying to collect a debt, and they have to be honest about who they are and what debt they are attempting to collect.

Remember, once an attorney tells a debt collector that he or she represents the debtor, the debt collector generally cannot continue to call or otherwise communicate directly with the debtor.

Does It Matter Who Is Trying to Collect the Debt, Or what Kind of Debt It Is?
Note that the rules are slightly different for collection agencies (which are regulated by the North Carolina Insurance Commissioner), as opposed to debt collectors, generally.

The primary difference in terms of enforcement is that (a) collection agencies are required to be licensed by the Commissioner of Insurance, and (b) collection agencies are forbidden from carrying out the illegal practices outlined above with regards to individuals, corporations, companies, associations and partnerships. This is important, because it means that businesses, too, are protected. Other debt collectors are unlicensed and are only forbidden from such conduct if the debtor is a natural person who incurred the alleged debt for personal, family, household, or agricultural purposes.

What If Debt Collectors Have Violated The Law?
If a debt collector has violated rights of a debtor under North Carolina law, the debtor may be entitled to damages for each such violation. In addition to any actual damages suffered due to the debt collector’s wrongful conduct, the debtor may be entitled to statutory damages of not less than $500.00 and not more than $4,000.00 per violation of the statute, as well as punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.

What Do I Do Next?

If you feel that debt collectors might be violating your rights, call a lawyer. In the meantime, document everything: keep detailed notes of all contact or communications with the debt collector, and be sure to save any letters, emails, voicemails, or phone logs.