As the economy sputters along more and more people are finding it impossible to pay all the bills.  In response, creditors and debt collectors are getting more and more aggressive. Being pursued by a debt collector is stressful, annoying and at times humiliating.  The good news is you don’t have to put up with their harassment.

The Fair Debt Collection Practice Act (FDCPA) is a federal law enacted to protect consumers from abusive and deceptive collection practices.  If you are being contacted regarding an alleged debt it is important  you understand your rights and how to protect them.

 A Debt Collector Cannot

  1. Call you about a debt at an unusual time or place. This usually means calls are not permitted before 8am or after 9pm.
  2. Contact you at your place of business.
  3. Contact you if you are represented by an attorney.
  4. Contact anyone besides you, your attorney, the original creditor, their attorney or a credit reporting agency.
  5. Harass, oppress, or abuse any person. This includes:
    – The use or threat of use of violence or other criminal means to harm a person, reputation, or property of any person.
    – The use of obscene or profane language.
    – Letting the phone continuously ring.
    – Calling repeatedly or continuously with intent to annoy, abuse, or harass any person at the called number.
    – Withholding information reasonably necessary to identify the caller.
  6. Use any false, deceptive, or misleading representation. This includes:
    – Misrepresenting or implying that the debt collector represents the United States or any State.
    – Lying about the character, amount, or legal status of any debt.
    – Lying about the amount of money the debt collector may receive for successfully collecting the debt.
    – Impersonating or implying that they are an attorney or that any communication is from an attorney.
    – Representing or implying that nonpayment of any debt will result in the arrest or imprisonment of any person.
    – Claiming that nonpayment will result in the seizure, garnishment, attachment, or sale of any property or wages of     any person unless such action is lawful and the debt collector intends to take such action.
    – Threatening to take any action that cannot legally be taken or that is not intended to be taken.
    – The false representation or implication that a sale, referral, or other transfer of the debt will cause the consumer to lose any claim or defense to payment of the debt.
    – The false representation or implication that the consumer committed any crime or other conduct in order to disgrace the consumer.
    – Communicating or threatening to communicate to any person false credit information, including that a disputed debt is disputed.
    – Falsely representing that a communication or document is authorized, issued, or approved by any court, official, or agency of the United States or any State, or which creates a false impression as to its source, authorization, or approval.
    – The false representation or implication that documents are legal process.
    – Using any business, company, or organization name other than the true name of the debt collector’s business, company, or organization.
    – The false representation or implication that a debt collector operates or is employed by a consumer reporting agency.
  7. Fail to state that the communication is made for the purpose of attempting to collect a debt, and that any information will be used for that purpose.

  What You Can Do

  1. Document every call you receive from a debt collector.  Keep a notepad by the phone and write down the following:
    1. The name of the caller and an employee ID number.
    2. The company the caller works for, including the company’s mailing address.
    3. A phone number where they can be reached.
    4. The time of the call.
    5. If the caller indicated that the call was for the purpose of attempting to collect a debt.
    6. If the caller refuses to provide any requested information and why.
    7. Any claims or threats made by the caller.
    8. General notes regarding the tone, language and demeanor of the caller.
  2. Let the caller know if they are contacting the wrong person or if the time or place of the phone call is inconvenient. This may not stop them from calling again, but it can be used to show that the caller is violating the law.
  3. Request Verification of the debt.  The FDCPA requires debt collectors to provide you a written debt validation notice which includes the amount of the debt, the name of the creditor and notice of your right to dispute the debt.  You should receive this notice within 5 days of the initial communication regarding the debt.  Even if you don’t, you should request a validation of the debt as soon as possible.  Here’s how:
    1. Your request must be in writing to be valid. A verbal request over the phone is not enough.
    2. You can dispute the entire debt, part of the debt, or request the name of the original creditor.
    3. Send your letter by certified mail with return receipt requested.
    4. Once the debt collector receives your validation request, they cannot contact you again until they’ve provided you with the requested information.
    5. Act quickly, you only have 30 days to request validation or dispute the debt.
  4. Record any damages you experience as a result of the debt collector’s actions.  These may include doctor visits for stress, loss of sleep, missed work etc.
  5. Report any violations to the Federal Trade Commission.

If you can prove that your rights under the FDCPA have been violated you can sue in federal or state court.  In addition to recovery of any actual damages you suffer, the FDCPA allows up to $1000 in statutory damages and the cost of your attorney fees.  If your rights have been violated you should contact an attorney as soon as possible.  Claims under the FDCPA must be brought within one year of the violation.

Leave a reply