The federal government has instructed all states to cut emergency unemployment payments by 10.7 percent beginning April 1, a move consumer advocates maintain could allow debt collectors to take advantage of financially vulnerable consumers.
The maximum weekly benefit allowed is $573 per week, but under the reductions, Pennsylvanians receiving unemployment compensation will likely receive no more than $510 per week.
“Some of the worst stress can be instigated by debt collectors,” Craig Thor Kimmel, the cofounder and managing attorney of the consumer advocacy law firm Kimmel & Silverman, said. “Regardless of the circumstances, when bills go unpaid, debt collectors start calling or writing and may ramp up their intensity in doing so, often with upsetting results. We are warning consumers to be aware and have a zero tolerance for harassment, abuse, threats or any uncivil behaviors prohibited by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.”
Kimmel said many of the cases he handles under the FDCPA involve debt collectors taking advantage of the psychological vulnerabilities of the unemployed.
“The strain of unemployment is a tough burden for anyone; compounding that stress with an obnoxious or overly aggressive debt collectors can push people over the edge,” Kimmel said. “That’s why the FDCPA was created; to stop abusive conduct, penalize it and to empower consumers to have free legal counsel to go after the offending debt collector.”
Under the FDCPA, debt collectors are prohibited from contacting consumers before 9 a.m. and after 8 p.m., and they cannot use threats of arrest, fines, wage garnishment, injury or death in attempts to collect debt. Debt collectors are also prohibited from contacting consumers at work if not permitted or inconvenient or contacting family, friends and colleagues of consumers for any other reason than to verify current contact information.
Consumers have the right to request the name of the original creditor within 30 days of receiving the first contact from the debt collectors, dispute the debt and request the collector cease and desist of all communications.