Debt Collection and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
You’re likely reading this because a debt collector is repeatedly calling you trying to collect a debt or because you’ve been served some papers saying a lawsuit has been filed against you to collect a debt. If so, you should keep reading.
A lot of people feel trapped when a debt collector is repeatedly calling them. They feel like if they can just make it to the next paycheck, they can start to pay down on that debt. Little do these people know that there are a number of laws that protect people who have debts. Knowing how those laws affect and protect you can change the game for a lot of people.
A debt collector keeps calling me. What are my rights?
A good first step is to actually answer the phone when these people call. Some collectors are actually reasonable people and will give you extra time to pay a debt if you make good faith efforts to communicate with them.
If you want the collector to stop contacting you, though, you have to do it in writing. Here’s how: type up a letter telling the collector you no longer wish to be contacted. You may have to look up the address for the specific debt collector. Make sure you reference the debt they’re trying to collect from you and the phone number they’re using to contact you. Tell them to stop calling you. Then, make a copy of that letter and keep it for your records. Send the original letter by certified mail and tell the post office you need a return receipt. This will give you proof that the collector actually received your mail. Once they receive the letter, they can’t contact you any more about the debt.
It’s important to know that stopping the calls doesn’t wipe out the debt. A debt collector can still take legal action, like filing a lawsuit against you, to collect the debt.
I’ve been served with papers saying a lawsuit has been filed against me to collect a debt. What do I do now?
This is the point at which a lot of people just give up, because they think there’s nothing they can do to fight a lawsuit. That’s what the attorneys for the debt collector are counting on. Attorneys for debt collectors file tons of lawsuits, hoping that the people they file against never answer the lawsuit. If you don’t answer the initial complaint against you, the court where it was filed just assumes the debt collector has a valid claim against you and grants a judgment for the debt collector. Once they have a judgment, that’s when the garnishments typically start.
There are a number of ways you can fight the lawsuit, though, and a competent lawyer can help. Typically, the debt collector’s attorneys fail to attach a signed copy of the contract, or they attach a contract which doesn’t have your name on it, or they don’t serve you with papers at the address where the statements for the account went. Any one of these things can be fatal to the debt collector’s lawsuit.
Like I said above, these attorneys file a ton of these lawsuits, and they aren’t getting paid a ton for each individual lawsuit. That means they can’t afford to spend a lot of time on one case, fighting against someone who has actually asserted their right to defend themselves. So, when people do fight back, some of the time the debt collectors just dismiss their cases rather than spending more money to collect the debt.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
There are a large number of “fly by night” debt collection agencies out there whose business is dependent on trying to collect debts they don’t truly have the authority to collect, and debts they can’t prove they have the authority to collect.
When these debt collectors file these sorts of lawsuit, there are two laws which operate in Arkansas to penalize that kind of debt collection: the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and the Arkansas version of the same law.
When a debt collector violates the FDCPA by suing you to collect a debt they don’t actually own or can’t prove they own, you can sue them back, even if you actually owe the debt. The two laws listed above allow for you to get an award for $1,000 under each law (a total of $2,000), payment for your attorneys, and any other actual damages you suffer because you had the lawsuit filed against you.
We vet every complaint that comes through our door to see if the FDCPA has been violated, and we know how to make these debt collectors pay for breaking the law.
At Wilson and Haubert, we have experience defending people against debt collectors and getting these lawsuits dismissed. If you’ve been served with a complaint and don’t know what to do, give us a call and we’ll get started defending your rights.
If you’re having trouble paying bills but haven’t yet been sued by a debt collector or if a garnishment is keeping you from being able to pay your other bills, click here. We have experienced bankruptcy attorneys who can assist you with getting a fresh start, free of debt.