Fifth Third Bank has been in the news for causing debt collection-related harassment over the phone. A consumer has brought a lawsuit against them for alleged harassment over the telephone regarding a debt which, by itself, is also under dispute.
The case, listed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, states that the consumer received debt collection-related calls from Fifth Third multiple times in a day, on his cellular phone, sustaining harassment and damages in the process. According to the consumer, an automatic dialer was used to call and remind him of the debt owed. Further, whether the consumer owes the debt itself is also in a state of dispute.
This case has several aspects that qualify it as a case of harassment:
- The fact that automatic dialing equipment was used to call the consumer.
- The collection entity did not verify if the debt was indeed owed by the consumer being called or not.
- Multiple calls were made for the purpose of debt collection.
Is There Legal Recourse Available?
Consumers are protected, legally, from debt collection related harassment. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and the Federal Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), both safeguard the interests of the consumer, and ensure that debt collection practices do not turn into harassment for them. To this effect, there are certain guidelines for practices regarding the use of telephone instruments, including cellphones. When these guidelines are violated, the consumer is eligible for monetary compensation as well. Typically, $500 is the compensation awarded for violations of the TCPA guidelines. If willful violation is proved, this can increase by three times and rise up to $1500.
What is Considered Debt-collection Related Harassment?
The practice of pursuing overdue credit is not illegal in itself. However, legally, certain practices or debt-collection related behavior is seen as harassment. Some of these are listed below:
- Incessant calling of consumers on their phones, including on cellphones.
- Calling consumers with the help of automatic dialing equipment, also known as making robocalls.
- Making calls to neighbors and relatives of the consumer. Providing them information about the debt owed by the consumer.
- Not identifying themselves, or providing identities of the entity on whose behalf the call is being made.
- Calling at inappropriate hours, such as early morning and late in the night.
- Not verifying whether the debt is indeed owed by the consumer or not.
- Providing false information regarding payments made or payments due.
- Making threats which have no basis and which are intended to stress out the consumer, including threats of bringing on lawsuits.
Consider the following examples of consumers sharing experiences of debt harassment they have experienced. These mention practices that are listed as illegal.
“…Then a shared phone where I work started getting phone calls for me. 12 or so a day. I finally reverse looked up the number and find it was 5/3. So I call their customer service line yesterday, the person on the phone does no validation of my identity at all, and agrees to remove the phone number from my account. All good right? Well, no. No mention of the bogus collections issue on that call, for the record…” – Patrick of Westerville, OH
“…OH and I only found out they want to serve me with papers and force me in front of a judge because they called my Father and my brother asking for me…not the house they had on record…” – Chris of Cadillac, MI
“…Again, they forced me to say my entire SSN over the phone WITH THE THIRD PARTY LISTENING, but then refused to give my account number over the phone. So my SSN is fine to be public, but God forbid giving out my account number…” – Joe of Corona, CA
Back to The Case
If Fifth Third Bank is guilty of making harassing calls, the consumer is well within his rights to bring a lawsuit and claim compensation. However, to ensure a fair trial, the consumer will need to have proof of their misbehavior ready.
If you are a consumer who has faced debt collection harassment, you can also take steps to stop harassment it. These include:
- Keeping track of the calls you receive, including robocalls or calls made using automatic equipment.
- Writing to the bank or agency to stop the calls. Keep proof of all communication you conduct.
- Save or record calls and messages.
- Keep track of phone bills, especially the period when you receive calls.
Talk to a legal professional to ensure you are doing all the right things needed to ensure the harassment stops. As a consumer, you are also eligible for monetary compensation. A TCPA lawyer can help you make your case stronger and guide you better, especially in areas where you need to strengthen your case or areas that can do with more proof, etc.
Legal Rights Advocates, PLLC is a law firm that helps clients who are facing harassment from debt collectors in any form, including over the telephone. Our team of attorneys, over the years, has helped countless clients get protections from debt collection practices that are deemed as unlawful and illegal under the FDCPA and TCPA laws.
If you are interested in learning more about how to safeguard yourself better from debt related harassment, call us at (855) 254-7841 for immediate assistance.