Can a bill collector threaten me with criminal charges for a bad debt?

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Can a bill collector threaten me with criminal charges for a bad debt?

A collection agency has called me and said that I have to pay a past debt to them for another company and if I don’t they will press charges for fraud. I looked them up on the internet and I found nothing but complaints about them being a fake company. They said that they need my debit card information to stop the charges from being pressed. They said that I had until 12/01 to pay but they needed my information now. Just sounds really fishy and I wanted to know if they can do this?

Asked on November 17, 2010 under Bankruptcy Law, North Carolina

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

You cannot be threatened with criminal action for this. People do not go to jail for owing money. Debtor's prison went out about the time Dickens. That is unless you had committed a fraud of some sort; that would be a crime. For example, if you scammed someone into lending money with no intention to repay. Absent something of that nature, neither a debt collector or creditor may threaten you with imprisonment or even the possibility of criminal charges. If they do you could actually sue them. Addtionally, they can not harass or otherwise intimidate, etc. It's the law - the "Fair Debt Collections Practices Act" (FDCPA).

This doesn't men however, that you don't owe the money.  Just be careful in how you set-up repayment plan (specifically, just what information that you give them - especially banking information).  Also, you cannot be sued for debt that is "too old".  This is due to something called the "statute of limitations".  In NC you cannot typically be sued for most debt that is over 3 years old.


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