According to a story on the Houston Chronicle website, consumers are beginning to fight back against debt collector harassment.  Statistics from the Federal District court in Houston show a 60% increase in these types of suits in the first quarter of this year.   

The story says Texas has especially strong laws to protect consumers from harassment.  In one case, a man won a $1 million judgment against a debt collector who harassed him.  The debt collector was trying to collect $2,700 owed on a Visa card.  The collector told the debtor he had taken out a contract on the debtor’s life and also called a bomb threat into the debtor’s workplace.  In another case, a woman was awarded $15 million, after debt collectors, trying to collect a relative’s debt, threatened that the woman would be arrested.  The woman turned herself into authorities. 

There is a federal law, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, that prescribes the activities a debt collector is allowed to take, in pursuing a debt owed by a consumer.  The Act applies to collectors, not the actual party the debt is owed to.  For instance, if you owe Joe Smith Inc., and he hires a debt collection agency or an attorney, the act applies to actions of the people he hires to collect the debt, but not to Joe Smith Inc.  There are also instances where state law might have greater remedies than federal law.  State consumer protection laws vary from state to state.

One person quoted in the story opines that the rise in suits could be linked to the fact that debt collectors are hurting in this economy and presumably, are turning to harsher tactics in trying to collect debts.