How The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act Helps Consumers In Debt
Dealing with debt collectors can be a frustrating experience. Debt collectors use aggressive strategies to compel consumers to pay past due debts in an effort to recover as much of the debt as possible. Although federal law gives collectors the latitude to pursue recovery of valid debts, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act provides consumers with several types of protection against abusive and excessive debt collection practices.
Prohibited Activities when Contacting Debtors
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act limits the hours during which a collector may contact you via telephone to discuss your debt. A debt collector may not contact you by telephone before 8 A.M. or after 9 P.M, which means that a collector who calls you in the middle of the night is in violation of the Act.
When contacting you to pursue collection of a debt, a creditor or collector may not engage in deceit or misrepresentation to coerce you to pay.
For example, a collector cannot falsely claim to be an attorney. The collector also cannot threaten you with a lawsuit unless the creditor or collection agency intends to take legal action against you. Likewise, a representative of a collection company or creditor cannot threaten you with imprisonment, arrest, or any other action that cannot be legally taken as part of the company’s collection efforts.
A collector may not contact you at work if the collector knows that such calls are prohibited by your employer. Notifying the collector in writing is sufficient to establish this knowledge. Likewise, a collection agency or creditor representative may not contact you if you have retained representation by an attorney, and the collector can reasonably determine the identity and contact information of the attorney.
Abusive behavior is also prohibited under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. A collector may not excessively or repeatedly call you in an attempt to collect a debt, or use obscene language when discussing your debt with you. Also, a collector may not threaten physical violence, destruction of personal property, or criminal activities that would harm your reputation.
Communication to Locate a Debtor
A collector or creditor may use reasonable efforts to contact a person, other than the debtor, for the purpose of determining the debtor’s location or contact information. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act places numerous restrictions on contacting third parties to pursue debt collection.
The collector cannot identify his employer unless specifically asked to do so by the call recipient. The collector must identify himself and state that the purpose of his call is to correct or confirm location or contact information for the debtor.
During the call, the creditor representative or collector may not disclose that you owe a debt. Also, the collector cannot contact a third party more than once unless expressly requested to do so by the third party; however, this restriction does not apply if the collector has reason to believe that the third party previously withheld or provided erroneous information.
Ceasing Communications from a Debt Collector
You may notify the creditor or collection agency in writing that the collector may engage in no further collection activity. If you do so, the collector may no longer contact you to attempt to recover a debt.
There are a few exceptions, though. The collector may contact you to notify you that further collection efforts will cease. Communication to advise you that the collector may pursue specific remedies is permitted. Also, the collector may contact you to provide notice that it intends to pursue a specific remedy, such as filing a lawsuit against you in a civil court, or garnishing your wages or seizing your assets after obtaining a civil judgment against you.
After contacting you about a debt, a collector must advise you in writing that you have 30 days to dispute the validity of the debt. If you dispute the debt, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act states that the collector must obtain and provide you with written verification of the debt via mail.
Civil Penalties for Violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
Collectors who violate the provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act are subject to civil penalties. If a collector has acted in a manner that violates the Act, you may bring legal action against the collector. Penalties may include the specific damages you suffered because of the collector’s actions. In most cases, specific damages can be difficult to quantify.
In the absence of specific damages, the collector may incur a penalty of $1,000 per occurrence. In the case of a class action lawsuit against the collector, penalties may amount to $1,000 per person, subject to a maximum penalty of $500,000.
If a collector violates the Act, write down the name of the company, the name of the representative, the date and time of the call, and the nature of the violation.