Are Harassing Bill Collectors After You?

Paying the bills. Nobody likes doing it.

The sluggish economy has more Americans feeling the pinch.and some feeling the financial punch of over-aggressive bill collectors.

"Lindsey" knows all too well about abusive bill collectors.

"He had threatened me at work. He had threatened me at home," she says.  She was pregnant when she says a bill collector swore at her over the phone.

"That got me more nervous and I was afraid that I was going to end up miscarrying."

Experts, like Robert Hobbs at the National Consumer Law Center, say bill collectors are getting a lot meaner. That some are even breaking the law.

"As the economy sours, there will be more abusive debt collection cases."

In fact, the Federal Trade Commission says there's been a real jump in the number of complaints against debt collectors- hitting nearly 14-thousand in 2000.

"He just started screaming, 'You owe money and you better pay it!'", says Ellen Chavez who is fighting back, taking her bill collector to court.  Hundreds of attorneys nationwide are now specializing in debt collection abuse.

A federal law that prohibits debt collectors from:

1. Calling you at home or at work -- once you've asked them not to-- in writing.

2. Threatening to sue you unless they mean it.

3. Threatening to seize your bank accounts, take your home, or arrest you.

Michelle Gleason is a former debt collector. She says collectors break the law, or at least bend it, all the time.

"You threaten: if you don't do something by noon, like if I don't have a payment here by noon, you know, we'll send it to the legal department," she describes a claim.

The American Collectors Association says there are rogue bill collectors - but that the industry is pretty good at policing itself.

"Once we spot someone violating all of the laws that are put into place to protect the consumer, we immediately investigate it and generally it winds up in termination," says an Association spokesperson.

But what if you're harassed by a bill collector who crosses the line?

1. Keep track of all the letters and all of the phone calls.

2. If necessary, you can call the state attorney general's office.

You may even decide to get a consumer attorney. That's what "Lindsey" did. She fought her bill collector - and won a $5,000 settlement!

She wants her daughters to learn it's always right to stand up for yourself.