BERKELEY COUNTY, W.Va. (WDVM) — Consumers are carefully following a bill in the West Virginia legislature stripping protections for debt collection practices.

Consumer advocates say the bill would allow scammers to engage in abusive tactics such as threatening jail sentences, placing a lien on one’s home when illegal to do so or collect a loan made through a stolen identity. Consumers are demanding the right to legal representation through non-profit groups like mountain state justice.

“You can go to criminal court,” said Larry Hale of Gerrardstown. “You can have an appointed lawyer. But if you go to civil court, even if you are in the right, you can’t get a lawyer if you are unable to afford a lawyer.”

In Hale’s case, he was sued because he sent his mortgage payment to an address for the lender which had changed. The company pursued him in court. Fortunately, he was able to get legal help from Mountain State Justice. Others, though, he says, are not so fortunate.

“Being on a set income, on Social Security, things are pretty tight and we were really blessed by being helped out by Mountain State Justice,” Hale explained.

Hale is among those consumers in the Mountain State who fear the legislature will legitimize fraud, deception, harassment and outright violations of the law in the debt collection process.

The legislature concludes its session next month. Meanwhile, consumers are fighting the proposed bill, which limits the sanctions against abusive debt collection tactics.