Debt Collector Do's and Don'ts
In an effort to oversee the debt collection process and maintain an atmosphere free of bias, coercion, etc., the Federal Trade Commission enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). As an educated consumer you may want to make yourself aware of some of the more important provisions of the FDCPA should you ever become involved in a debt collection scenario.
A debt collector can be a person, an agency, or a lawyer who regularly collects owed debts/monies. Debt collectors can also be companies who buy off debts and then try to recoup their own monies. During said collection process the debt collector is expressly forbidden from engaging in unfair, deceptive, or injurious practices in an effort to recoup monetary debts. The monetary debts referred to here include such things as credit card accounts, car loans, medical bills, home mortgages, etc. Monies owed referential to a business enterprise are not covered by the FDCPA.
A debt collector must follow certain protocols. They should not be contacting you prior to 8:00 A.M. or after 9:00 P.M. unless you are personally amenable to such hours. If you are not allowed to receive phone calls at work the debt collector must abide by this rule. But…you have to inform him/her of such conditions either orally or in writing. It might not be a bad idea to talk to a bona fide collector at least once to ascertain the veracity of the debt and their/your information and understanding of the issue. If you prefer there be no further contact, document your position in writing. This will NOT stop the legal debt collection process. It will/should stop further informal collection attempts. It will also NOT stop possible future communication regarding legal remedies which may be initiated.
I an effort to speak with you a debt collector can speak with a third party with an eye toward securing an active phone number, address, or current place of employment. NOTHING else may be discussed. Such contacts should be one time occurrences. If conversations do take place the debt collector must memorialize such conversations by sending you a written notice (validation notice) which should include the amount of your debt, the name of the creditor(s), and the avenues available to dispute the debt. This written communication should be written within five days of oral conversations. ALSO, be aware that if you send a response letter to a validation notice stating that you do not owe the amount in question or requesting more information/verification of the purported debt, further contact by the debt collector must cease. Make sure you send such a communiqué within thirty days of receipt of such a validation notice. If you have engaged legal representation, debt collectors should be speaking with your ATTORNEY ONLY!
So what practices will be considered injurious, deceptive, and/or unfair? Prohibited practices include but may not be limited to (1) engaging in verbal or physical harassment (2) calling you repeatedly (3) putting your name on a “bad debtor” list (4) engaging in overt lies to recoup funds (5) threatening to have you arrested (6) collecting interest/fees/charges above the amount of your debt unless state law expressly allows for same (7) misrepresenting their ability/intention to institute legal proceedings against you.
If a debt collector violates tenets of the FDCPA you do have recourse as a consumer. You can file a lawsuit within one year of the supposed breach of the rules on the part of the collector. Proven illegal collection practices can result in the awarding of damages to the consumer of up to $1000. This will in NO WAY negate the original debt which instigated the onset of the collection process.
Problems with debt collectors should be reported to your state Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Trade Commission. State statutes can be reviewed with you to determine an appropriate course of action should illegal collection practices come to light.