Dealing with debt collectors can be a daunting and stressful experience. However, you’re not alone in this struggle, and there are protections in place to help you navigate these tricky waters. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is there to shield you from abusive and deceptive tactics employed by debt collectors. In this blog post, we’ll dive into the nitty-gritty details of your rights, limitations on debt collectors, and practical tips for handling debt collection issues, including “what are the things that a debt collector agency can’t do”.
But before we get started, let’s explore the basic principles of the FDCPA and how it can serve as a lifeline for those facing debt collector harassment.
- The FDCPA protects consumers from debt collector harassment by providing clear rules and regulations
- Debt collectors are not allowed to harass, abuse or deceive you, nor can they contact third parties without permission
- Knowing your rights and taking action when necessary will help protect yourself from debt collectors.
Understanding the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
The FDCPA is a federal law designed to protect consumers from debt collector harassment by providing clear rules and regulations that debt collectors must follow. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces the FDCPA to shield consumers from abusive debt collection practices. The consequences of such practices can be severe, including:
- Personal bankruptcies
- Marital instability
- Job loss
- Invasions of individual privacy
Notably, the FDCPA encompasses various debts such as:
- credit card debt
- car loans
- medical bills
- student loans
- other household debts, including cases where debt collectors attempt to collect interest.
Scope of the FDCPA
The FDCPA applies specifically to third-party debt collectors who work for a debt collection agency and collect debts owed to others. However, it doesn’t cover in-house debt collectors, meaning those who are employed directly by the original creditor.
The FDCPA regulates the collection of various consumer debts, including:
- Credit card debts
- Medical debts
- Personal loans
- Other consumer debts
However, it does not extend to business debts.
Prohibited Communication Tactics
Debt collectors have specific communication boundaries they must adhere to. For example, they cannot call at inconvenient times or places, contact third parties without permission, or ignore requests to stop communication. They are allowed to call you only between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m., and they must identify themselves every time. Debt collectors are barred from calling your family and friends. The only allowed calls to them are to obtain your address, phone number, or place of work..
If debt collectors continue to call you at work after you have informed them that you’re not allowed to receive personal calls, keep a record of the time and date of the calls and consult a lawyer. This can help build a case against the collection agency for harassment.
Misrepresentation and Deception
Debt collectors are strictly prohibited from using deception or misrepresentation to collect debts. For instance, they cannot pretend to work for a government agency, threaten arrest, or provide false information about the debt. This means that they must always be truthful about their identity, the debt owed, and the legal status of the debt.
Awareness of these restrictions is key to protecting oneself from debt collector deception and initiating suitable action should such practices occur.
Harassment and Abuse
Harassment and abuse by debt collectors are strictly forbidden, including debt collection harassment. This involves using obscene or profane language, making threats, or repeatedly calling with the intent to annoy or harass. If you believe that a debt collector violated your rights by harassing or abusing you, understanding your rights and retaliating against these unlawful practices is crucial.
Remember, you have the right to be treated with respect and dignity, even when dealing with debt collectors.
Unfair Debt Collection Practices
Unfair practices in debt collection are also prohibited. For example, debt collectors cannot charge unauthorized fees or use false communication charges. These unauthorized fees include any extra charges added by debt collectors that weren’t agreed upon in the original loan or agreement.
Should you suspect unfair practices in your debt collection, promptly reporting these violations to the appropriate authorities, including credit reporting companies, and seeking legal help when necessary is highly recommended.
Validation and Dispute Rights
As a consumer, you have the right to:
- Request validation of a debt and dispute it within 30 days of receiving the validation notice.
- Send a dispute letter outlining the specifics of the dispute via certified mail with a return receipt. Make sure to keep a copy of your dispute letter.
- Keep a receipt for your records.
Exercising your validation and dispute rights ensures your accountability only for legitimate debts and safeguards you against potential inaccuracies or fraud.
Legal Actions and Garnishments
Debt collectors can only take legal actions or garnish your wages, bank accounts, or benefits if they have already sued you, and a court has entered a judgment against you. However, there are limitations on how much they can garnish from your wages and bank accounts, and certain federal benefits are generally protected from garnishment.
Being well-informed about the legal actions and garnishments that debt collectors can employ, and the restrictions on these actions, can enhance your understanding of your rights and asset protection.
Handling Old Debts
Old debts, or time-barred debts, have a statute of limitations, which typically ranges from 3 to 6 years, depending on the state and type of debt. Even though debt collectors might still attempt to collect these time-barred debts, understanding the statute of limitations and seeking legal counsel for advice on handling such debts is vital.
Being aware of the statute of limitations can help you avoid paying on debts that are no longer legally enforceable and protect you from potential scams or unfair practices.
Reporting Debt Collector Violations
If a debt collector violates the FDCPA, you should report these violations to the FTC, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and your state attorney general’s office. This can help hold debt collectors accountable for their actions and ensure they adhere to the law.
Remember, your rights as a consumer are protected, and reporting violations to a consumer reporting agency can help prevent others from suffering the same mistreatment.
Seeking Legal Help
If a debt collector violates the FDCPA, you have the right to seek legal help and sue them for damages within one year of the violation. To do this, you will need the assistance of a lawyer specializing in debt collection cases or consumer law.
Taking legal action against debt collectors who break the law can not only help you recover damages but also deter other debt collectors from engaging in similar practices.
Tips for Dealing with Debt Collectors
Maintaining records of all interactions and taking caution when sharing personal or financial information is vital when dealing with debt collectors. In addition, consider negotiating a settlement with the original creditor or collection agency to potentially reduce the debt or create a manageable repayment plan.
Adhering to these tips can enhance your ability to navigate the debt collection process and safeguard you from possible harassment or abuse.
Real Life Example
Recently one of our clients, Tara, was dealing with harassing debt collectors. For months, she received daily threatening calls about medical bills she struggled to pay after losing her job. No matter how many times she asked them to stop, the collectors kept calling, even late at night.
After a particularly abusive call, Tara searched online for help, found our website and contacted us. She scheduled a free consultation, sharing her story with one of our consumer protection lawyers. After hearing the details, we assured her the collector’s conduct violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
Then our attorney helped Tara draft a cease and desist letter formally demanding the collector stop calling. When the badgering continued, we stepped in and used Arkansas consumer laws to threaten legal action if the abuse didn’t end immediately.
Within a week, the harassing calls ceased completely. Tara finally felt relieved and could move forward feeling protected.
In conclusion, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is a vital tool for protecting consumers from abusive and deceptive debt collection practices. By understanding your rights under the FDCPA, you can navigate the debt collection process with confidence and protect yourself from harassment, abuse, and unfair practices.
Remember, you have the power to take control of your debt collection situation. By staying informed, reporting violations, and seeking legal help when necessary, you can emerge victorious in your battle against debt collectors.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are two things that debt collectors are not allowed to do?
Debt collectors are prohibited from harassing, oppressing or abusing you or anyone else they contact, as well as using obscene or profane language or making threats of violence.
What should you not do with a debt collector?
Don’t give a collector any personal financial information, make a “good faith” payment, promise to pay, or admit the debt is valid. Additionally, don’t lose your temper with the collector, even when they are rude and pushy.
What is the 777 rule with debt collectors?
The “777 Rule” states that debt collectors may attempt to contact a consumer about a single debt up to seven times in seven days. Phone numbers do not matter; it’s the number of debts that matters.
What debt collectors don’t want you to know?
Debt collectors don’t want you to know that you can make them stop calling, they can’t do most of what they tell you, payment deadlines are phony, threats are inflated, and they can’t find out how much you have in the bank. Furthermore, if you’re out of state, they may have no legal recourse to collect.
What types of debts are covered under the FDCPA?
The FDCPA covers various types of debt, including credit card debt, car loans, medical bills, student loans, mortgages, and other household debts.