In the United States, many people use debt as a consistent way to make purchases. They buy homes with mortgage loans and take out more loans to buy cars. They borrow money to start businesses or go to college. When they budget, it’s less about how much they can afford overall and more about how many monthly payments fit into their budget.

However, circumstances sometimes conspire to make those payments impossible. Someone budgets for the monthly payments and then loses their job, for instance, making all of the payments completely unaffordable.

This is when debt collectors may come into the picture, attempting to recover the money owed. They have to treat the consumers in a fair and just manner in accordance with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). This is a federal law. It must be obeyed.

So, how do you know if the collector is breaking that law? It can be intimidating and stressful. Here are a few examples of unfair actions or unfair practices:

  • Misrepresentation: Deceiving the lender regarding key parts of the debt, such as when it is due or how much debt the person actually has, is illegal.
  • Threats: Collectors cannot make threats, and this includes telling you that failure to pay will result in a call to the authorities, who will arrest you.
  • Legal deception: If the person getting in touch with you about the debt is not a lawyer or an attorney, he or she cannot claim to be one.
  • Empty threats: Collectors cannot make threats that no one intends to follow through on or that may actually be illegal. The lender cannot try to force the person to pay, counting on their ignorance of the collection process to intimidate them.
  • Charging extra: The lender cannot ask for additional charges that are not allowed by the law in Minnesota or that are not mentioned in the contract. Fees and charges in that contract may still count, but the lender cannot simply make up new ones in an effort to get the person to pay off the debt.
  • Depositing a check early: If the check is post-dated, the lender must honor that date.
  • Identifying marks: Any communications about the debt cannot mention the debt collector’s identity on the envelope. The only exception is putting down the return address.
  • Postcards: Under no circumstances can the debt collector send you a postcard to talk about the money owed.

In general, debt collectors have to be fair and honest during every step in the process. They have to represent the debt and their own goals accurately. If they fail to do these things and end up lying to you, threatening you or misleading you intentionally in any way, you must know about all of the legal options you have.