No they cannot. And if they do, they are in violation of federal law.
The body of law that regulates what a collection agency can and cannot do in their attempts to collect on a debt is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). This statute lays out with specificity what is lawful and unlawful conduct. For instance, it is not lawful for a debt collector to threaten you with a law suit, or make it seem as if you have committed some sort of crime, that they are going to report the debt to the credit bureau, or that they are going to garnish your wages. The only time a collector may properly make such a threat is if they have already gained the original creditor’s permission to do so (which is never), and they have the petition for breach of contract already prepared in hand to file against you. Otherwise, it is simply an idle threat that is most likely being used to intimidate you into making a payment (because who wants their wages garnished when they are just barely making it by as it is).
If in fact such a violation occurs, and sufficient facts can be shown, the collection agency will have to pay you damages (usually in the amount of $1,000). In addition, the statute provides that any and all attorney fees must also be paid by the debt collector. This means that you will not have to pay any upfront costs for filing suit against a collector for their unlawful activity.
Depending on what other kinds of debts you are dealing with, it may also make sense to look into whether or not to file for bankruptcy protection. A Missouri or Illinois bankruptcy can take care of the rest of your unsecured debt (like credit cards, medical bills, payday loans, old utility bills, etc.), and/or pay off your secured debts (such as mortgage arrearage, car loans, tax debt, or back child support). A St. Louis Chapter 7 bankruptcy immediately knocks out the debts; a St. Louis Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a repayment plan over the course of three (3) to five (5) years during which certain debts are paid back.
The affordable St. Louis bankruptcy lawyers at The Law Office of Jennifer Alter-Rieken want to make sure your consumer rights are protected. If a collection agency is violating your rights, we want to make that collector compensate you for the damage done, and get rid of the underlying debt. This in turn gives you the opportunity to move forward with life, and rebuild your credit heading into the future. Our initial consultation is free of charge. So call today!