For years, debt collectors have tried to strong-arm consumers into paying credit card debt and other delinquent accounts with threats of jail time. Legal professionals tell their clients to dismiss these threats, since no debt collector has the authority to arrest a debtor. However, the threat is a bit more frightening when it appears to come from law enforcement itself. Believe it or not, this very situation occurs on a regular basis in approximately 300 U.S. communities, some of which are right here in California.

In these communities, unscrupulous prosecuting attorneys are renting their letterheads to debt collectors in order to make the threat of jail time seem valid to the debtor. In many cases, these debt collectors are able to convince consumers to not only pay the debt immediately, but also to pay additional $170 for a “financial responsibility” course. The proceeds are then split between the prosecutor and the debt collector.

With or without a prosecutor’s letterhead, debt collectors cannot send someone to jail for failing to pay a debt. Not only are these prosecutors condoning a practice that attempts to collect a debt illegally; they are also abusing their offices by using their legal influence to harass consumers. Prosecutors who were questioned stated that they engage in this practice in order to reduce consumer debts and improve the financial health of society. Still, the methods they are using are questionable at best.

Consumers who cannot pay their debts should remember that they are not criminals and they are not alone. Creditor harassment is always illegal, and no one, not even a prosecutor, can arrest consumers for failing to pay. Furthermore, other debt relief options, such as bankruptcy, are available to individuals facing financial challenges.

Source: Huffington Post, “The Alarming Ties Between Debt Collectors and District Attorneys,” Adam Levin, Sept. 26, 2012