Every day, thousands of Americans are harassed by collectors looking to get paid. These agents abuse debtors by threatening them, verbally and emotionally abusing them, and harassing them throughout their daily lives. Fortunately, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is your friend and is here to help. But to use this tool, you need to know how it helps you and the tools at your disposal.
What is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act?
The 95th Congress enacted the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (15 U.S.C. § 1692) in 1977 as a way to aid consumers in dealing with overbearing creditors. It establishes certain things that creditors are not allowed to do to debtors. It also offers those subjected to violations recourse to stop the harassment.
Originally the Federal Trade Commission enforced the FDCPA, but this has since been turned over to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Before reaching out to them, it’s important to know your rights so you can identify when they have been violated.
The summary below offers you guidance on using the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to your advantage. (Please remember that this is for informational purposes and is not legal advice. To determine if you should pursue a cause of action based on this Act, consult with an attorney in your area).
Section 1692b of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act limits a collector’s ability to communicate with others about finding you.
The collector must identify himself to the person he is calling if it is not you and the person requests that information. The agent must state that he or she is confirming or correcting location data for the debtor.
The collector cannot state that you owe a debt, and cannot communicate with another person besides you more than once unless you consent to that. If sending material by mail, the collector cannot use identifying information in the material or on the envelope indicating that the communication is from a debt collector.
If the consumer has an attorney and the collector can get in touch with the attorney, the collector cannot communicate with any other person but the attorney, absent an inability to get a hold of that attorney.
Communications with You
Section 1692c limits a collector to certain reasonable types of communication to discuss the debts you owe.
Without your consent, the creditor cannot reach out to you at unusual times and places, and can only call you between 8 am and 9 pm your time zone. The creditor also cannot communicate with you at work if the creditor knows or has reason to know that the employer prohibits such communications.
If you notify the creditor in writing that are refusing to pay a debt or want the creditor to cease further communication with you, he or she cannot communicate further with you unless it is to notify you of collection efforts being terminated, or to provide notice of certain remedies being invoked that the creditor regularly uses when collecting debts.
Harassment and Abuse
Section 1692d of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits creditors from engaging in harassing and abusive behavior.
The creditor cannot do any of the following:
- Use threats of violence or criminal activity;
- Use obscene or profane language;
- Publish a list of consumers who refuse to pay debts, except to consumer reporting agencies;
- Advertise sale of a debt to coerce payment;
- Cause your phone to ring repeatedly intent to annoy, abuse, or harass you; or
- Call you without meaningful disclosure of the collector’s identity.
False and Misleading Representations
Section 1692e prohibits the collector from engaging in deceptive behavior.
They are not allowed to do any of the following:
- Claim he or she represents the United States government or any state government;
- Falsely represent the amount or legal status of a debt;
- Falsely claim that the collector is an attorney or the communication is from one;
- Represent that failure to pay will result in your arrest or imprisonment, or that there will be seizure, garnishment, attachment, or sale of your property or wages, unless the creditor actually intends to take such action;
- Threaten to take action that cannot legally be taken or that the collector does not intend to take;
- Represent that the sale, transfer, or referral of a debt will cause you to lose any otherwise valid defense, and become subject to practices prohibited by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act;
- Disgrace you by claiming that you have committed a crime or other disgraceful act;
- Communicate or threaten to communicate information to anyone about you that is false, including failing to disclose that a disputed debt is disputed;
- Use documents that mimic official court or government documents;
- Fail to disclose to you that the creditor is attempting to collect a debt during the initial communication;
- Claim that documents are legal process (that you’ve been served with a lawsuit);
- Claim that documents which are legal process (being served with a lawsuit) are NOT legal process; or
- Claim that the creditor is from a consumer reporting agency.
Other unfair practices are covered by Section 1692f.
Collectors cannot use unfair or unconscionable means to collect a debt. They cannot do any of the following:
- Collect on an amount that is not authorized by you or permitted by law;
- Solicit post-dated checks or payment instruments to threaten criminal prosecution;
- Deposit or threaten to deposit a post-dated check or payment instrument prior to the date written on the instrument;
- Cause charges to be made for communications by concealing the true nature of the communication (such as collect calls and telegrams);
- Threaten to take nonjudicial action for the dispossession or disablement of your property;
- Communicate by postcard; or
- Use any language or symbol on an envelope, other than an address, that indicates the communication is from a debt collector.
Validation of Debts
Section 1692g requires the collector to validate the debt they are attempting to collect.
The collector must notify you within five days of the initial communication that gives details about the amount of the debt; the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed; a statement that unless the debt is disputed within 30 days, it will be assumed valid; a statement that if you dispute the debt within 30 days, the collector will obtain verification of the debt or a copy of the judgment against you (if one exists); and a statement detailing the original creditor, if different from the current creditor.
The collector must cease collection efforts if you dispute the debt during the 30-day window and must then validate it.
Failure to dispute a debt is not an admission of liability in court. A pleading filed in a court of law will not be considered a valid initial communication.
Section 1692h applies to situations where you have multiple debts with the same creditor.
If you have debts with a collector and any of the debts are disputed, the collector shall not apply any payments made to the disputed debts; only to the ones which are valid and undisputed.
Section 1692i sets up the requirements if the collector plans to sue you for the money owed.
The collector must choose an appropriate venue. If you live in Virginia and all of your debts are connected to the Commonwealth of Virginia and nowhere else, the collector cannot choose another state in which to sue. If the dispute involves real estate, the collector must bring the action in that judicial district.
A collector can only sue you in the judicial district where the debt contract was signed, or where you are domiciled at the commencement of the action. (In the legal world, this means that statute establishes that there must be personal jurisdiction, or the court’s ability to exercise its power, over you).
Section 1692j prevents collectors from furnishing false forms to you.
It is a violation to furnish a form that would cause you to believe that another person besides the collector is involved in the collection efforts when there is no such person.
Anyone who violates this is liable under Section 1692k.
Liability for Violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
1692k creates certain civil remedies for violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
I won’t go into all of them here, but know that the collector can be dealt a judgment of $1,000 for a violation. The court considers a variety of factors in determining if the collector is liable, including the frequency of the violation, intent, and persistence in noncompliance.
An action to enforce the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act can be brought in any U.S. District Court.
Know Your Rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
Study this guide closely and keep it handy if you are dealing with collectors. During your collection calls, keep a notepad with you and write down details of your conversation with the agent. Be sure to get their name and any sort of identification number they may have so you can keep track of what went on.
Also make sure your credit report matches what any creditors claim. The last thing we want to deal with is a claim that you do not validly owe.
If you notice a violation, bring it to their attention immediately and be ready to use that to your advantage. Mention the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and which section they violated. Odds are, you will know more than the agent does and can leverage that knowledge in your favor.
Lastly, if you are overwhelmed by your debts, let’s get in touch to see how I can assist you. Schedule a free Discovery Session to start your financial transformation and get rid of collectors forever!
After working with me, if a collector calls your house, it’s because they have the wrong number.
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Disclaimer: I am not an attorney and this is not to be construed as official legal advice. This article is an informative summary for educational purposes. If a creditor has sued you for a debt, contact an attorney immediately to get the representation you need.