Debt collectors rely on pressure to get people to pay: pressure from constant phone calls, letters, and threats of lawsuits, as well as lawsuits themselves. All of this pressure is intended to get debtors to pay them, even if the debtors can’t afford to do so.
Debt collectors do not care if you are unemployed, disabled, struggling because your children are out of school, or about anything else going on in your life. Their sole goal is to get you to choose to pay them rather than use your money for something else, even if that something else is a necessity like food, or clothing, or utility bills.
The Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions (WDFI) has issued a warning to debt collectors that such tactics, already on the border of illegality, may cross that line during the pandemic. When someone tells a debt collector they cannot pay on their debts at the time, the WDFI warns that for a debt collector to “repeatedly “disturb” or “annoy” [that person] anyway is the definition of harassment.” Such calls harm you by taking your time away from more important things, by pressuring you to use scarce funds to pay off old debts, or cause distress and anxiety over the threat of being garnished or having cars repossessed, threats that take on a renewed sense of urgency when someone has already suffered economically. Fear of getting those calls makes people not answer their phones, which can make them miss important calls.
The same may go for debt collectors who suggest you use stimulus money, or extra unemployment compensation, to pay off debts; those funds are intended to help you make ends meet during hard times, and trying to get you to use the funds to pay old debts could be seen as harassment.
The WDFI had a warning for those debt collectors:
Juries can impose severe consequences against those who engage in prohibited debt practices under the Wisconsin Consumer Act, including punitive damages and damages for mental anguish and emotional distress. Jurors too will have lived through this crisis, and will judge debt collection practices through the lens of this period of shared global hardship and sacrifice. Debt collectors who fail to respect those hardships should expect to be judged harshly.
If you believe you are being unfairly pressured by debt collectors, call or chat today for a free consultation with one of our consumer protection lawyers.