Though complaints about debt collectors are pouring into a federal database that tracks allegations of illegal late-night phone calls, arrest threats and other abuse, few of the complaints are likely to result in enforcement actions, the Wall Street Journal reported recently.

The debt-collection industry, booming as many Americans struggle to catch up on their payments or walk away from what they owe, was the subject of a record 164,361 complaints through Dec. 8 of 2011, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The total is 17 percent higher than the 140,036 debt-collection complaints the FTC got for 2010.

Since the start of 2011, though, the FTC has launched just four enforcement actions against debt-collection firms under the primary federal law used to oversee the industry.

From 2005-10, the average was two cases a year. FTC officials said that the small number of enforcement actions against debt collectors is a misleading barometer of its determination to punish violators.

J. Reilly Dolan, acting director of the agency’s financial-practices division, said that the FTC "is cracking down on abusive collection practices and directs its resources to go after some of the largest debt collectors."