How to Stop Harassment from Debt Collectors
Having financial problems is a stressful situation for anyone. If you are also dealing with debt collection agencies, the constant phone calls and letters can make the circumstances even more overwhelming. It is important to know your rights as a consumer. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is overseen by the Federal Trade Commission and protects individuals from unfair and deceptive collection practices.
The FDCPA defines a debt collector as anyone who regularly collects debts owed to others. This typically will be an actual debt collection agency but it can also include lawyers who routinely collect debts and companies who purchase delinquent debt and then try to collect on these outstanding debts.
A debt collector may contact you regarding any outstanding debt owed on a mortgage, credit card account (s), car loans and medical bills. Unless you have spoken with the debt collector and given your permission, you may only be contacted between the hours of 8am and 9pm.
If you have a lawyer representing you about the debt, the debt collector must speak with your lawyer, not you.
If and when you speak with a debt collector, this person must send you a written notice which states how much you owe, the name of the creditor seeking payment, and what you must do if you wish to dispute the debt. This is generally called a "validation notice".
There are certain practices which debt collectors are prohibited from doing. If you are dealing with a debt collection agency, you should be aware of these "rules of conduct". It is important to know your rights under the law and understand the protection the FDCPA affords you.
Debt collectors may not harass you.
Specifically they may not:
- Repeatedly make phone calls in an attempt to annoy you.
- Make threats of harm or violence.
- Use obscene or profane language.
- Publish any type of list with the names of people who refuse to pay their debts.
Debt collectors may not make false statements.
Debt collectors must be truthful when trying to collect a debt. They may not:
- Accuse you of having committed a crime.
- Identify themselves as government representatives or attorneys.
- Misstate the actual amount of money you owe.
- Falsely claim that they work for a credit reporting bureau.
- State that any papers which they send you are legal documents, if they aren't.
- State that any papers which they send you aren't legal documents, if they are.
Debt collectors may not make any of the following statements.
Debt collectors cannot say the following misstatements:
- You will be arrested if you refuse to pay the money you owe.
- They will attach, seize, garnish or sell your property or wages unless they are permitted to do this by law and intend to pursue this course of action.
- They will take legal action against you in an attempt to collect the debt you owe, unless they are permitted by law to do this and they fully intend to begin legal proceedings.
Debt collectors may not do the following.
Debt collectors are prohibited from:
- Falsifying the name of the company they work for.
- Releasing or giving false credit information about you to anyone, including all credit reporting companies.
- Sending you any paperwork that looks like an official document from a court or government agency, if it is not.
Debt collectors may not use unfair practices in an attempt to collect a debt.
Debt collectors may not use underhanded means or unfair practices when trying to collect a debt. They may not:
- Deposit a post-dated check before the actual date on the check.
- Contact you by postcard.
- Threaten to take or actually take your property unless they have the legal right to do so.
- Attempt to collect additional fees, interest, or other charges above what you owe unless the contract that created your debt or your State law allows it.
What you can do.
As a consumer, you have every legal right to sue a debt collector if you feel your rights have been violated. You generally have one year from the time you feel the violation took place to sue in either a state or federal court. If you are successful, the presiding judge can order the collector to pay you for any and all damages, including lost wages and medical bills. The court can also require the debt collector to pay you up to $1000 even if you can't prove that you suffered actual damages.
Remember that even if a debt collector violates the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, it does not erase the debt if you legally owe it.
If you feel that a debt collector has used unfair collection practices when trying to collect a debt which you owe, you should contact your state Attorney General's office (www.naag.org) and the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov). Some states have laws concerning debt collection which may differ from the FDCPA. Your state Attorney General's office can help you determine your rights under your specific state law.