Threatening People who Owe Money Can be Illegal

Threatening people is one of the more notorious collection techniques debt collectors sometimes use. Thus 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.

Actions They Don’t Intend to Take

Even if a debt collector could legally do something, they cannot threaten to do so unless they intend to do it. For example, collectors are notorious for threatening legal action if you don’t pay a certain debt by a certain time. Or they threaten to turn a bill over to their “legal department” under certain circumstances. If they legally cannot bring suit or do not have a legal department, these threats would violate the FDCPA.

They cannot threaten to “garnish your wages”if they do not have the legal power to do so – and that requires a judgment against you.

Threats of Violence

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).

Threatening Something they Cannot Do


Collectors may not threaten to sell the debt elsewhere and imply that doing so would deprive the consumer of any rights or remedies.

A Biggie

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), however. For a debt collector to  threaten to report or otherwise act in a way to disgrace the consumer violates the FDCPA. 1692e(7).


These types of threats or actions can also sometimes be criminal violations or might break state law rights. Or might not –  what courts have let debt collectors get away with in the past has been pretty shocking. That is part of the reason the FDCPA was enacted – to control the courts.

The FDCPA makes more threats illegal, makes it easier to prove and includes a right to attorneys fees if you win. On the other hand, the penalties are lower under the FDCPA than under state laws.

Combining Remedies

Because the FDCPA is easier to prove but offers lower penalties, you would usually sue under the FDCPA and the other laws, too. FDCPA claims do not preempt other claims: they are in addition

Protect Your Rights

If debt collectors are calling you, you need to be alert to protect your rights. These calls are often a prelude to their suing you. You might consider membership with our site, which gets you our ecourses for free, plus gives you many other benefits.Check out some of our e-courses. Or consider our prepaid legal plan to protect you from future possible litigation. With that, if you debt collectors decide to sue you, you get a lawyer to defend you for free.