Violation of any federal, New York State or local criminal law while attempting to collect a debt is also a violation of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, for which you may recover up to $1,000 or your actual damages, plus your attorney’s fees and court costs.
FEDERAL CRIMINAL OFFENSES
The federal mail fraud statute prohibits deceitful statements, half-truths, and concealment of material facts. It could apply to a debt collector who uses the mails to fraudulently collect a debt.
The federal laws against wire fraud and internet fraud are similar to the law against mail fraud except that the offenses are committed by telephone or internet.
Harassing Telephone Calls:
Under the Federal Communications Act of 1934, a person may be fined up to $50,000 or imprisoned for up to six months, or both, if he or she calls another and:
• Causes a telephone to ring repeatedly, with the intent to harass;
• Makes repeated phone calls solely to harass;
• Permits a telephone under his or her control to be used for any of the above purposes.
NEW YORK STATE CRIMINAL OFFENSES
It is a violation of New York State Criminal Law to:
• Commit fraud for the purpose of collecting a debt or foreclosing on a mortgage;
• Commit larceny (theft) by garnishing money or seizing assets to which the debt collector or collection attorney has no right to take;
• Attempt to seize assets to which the collector or attorney has no rights (attempted larceny);
• Practice law in New York without a license. Out-of-state debt collection attorneys who garnish the wages of New Yorkers commit the following crimes: (1) unauthorized practice of law; (2) larceny of attempted larceny; and (3) if the larceny is completed (the money or assets stolen), possession of stolen property. Such out-of-state attorneys face prosecution in New York State and loss of their law licenses in their home state. They are usually extremely eager to settle the lawsuit.
• Possess stolen property. Every successful larceny (not attempted larceny) results in possession of stolen property once the property is stolen.
• Engage in extortion or coercion (also known as “black-mail”), which means wrongfully using fear to obtain your consent to take your property. Attempting to induce fear by making any of the following threats is a criminal offense:
• Make telephone calls with intent to annoy or harass a person;
• Use obscene language while attempting to collect a debt;
• Present as authentic a document, such as a letter, which appears to be an official government document but is not;
• Listen to or record telephone conversations without proper authorization;
A debt collector or collection attorney who violates any of the above criminal laws can be sued for monetary damages in addition to being forced to pay your attorney’s fees and court costs. In cases of serious misconduct, our clients may decide to refer the debt collector or collection attorney to federal or state authorities for criminal prosecution, in addition to suing them.
LENOIR LAW FIRM, PLLC
2585 Broadway, Suite 251
New York, NY 10025
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