They can’t just keep calling over and over if you know your rights…
In this post, we’ll explore potential legal remedies provided under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Knowing your rights may help you take the necessary steps to stop collections companies from harassing you day and night. Keep reading to learn more about the applicable laws.
Debt Collection and Consumer Protections
Debt collectors are third-party companies that are hired to collect certain debts on behalf of other companies. Debt collectors are known to often ignore the laws enacted to protect consumers. It is important for the consumer to be aware of their rights and know what to do should a creditor abuse their power.
Third-party creditors have a legal obligation to perform their collection efforts under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The FDCPA is a federal law that limits what debt collectors are permitted to do when collecting certain types of debt.
It is important to remember that the FDCPA does not extend to all debts, but it does include the following:
- Credit Cards
- Medical Debts
- Other debts, including debts related to family, personal, or household debts.
State laws and regulations under the FDCPA govern the conduct of student loan companies, banks, and debt collectors attempting to collect a debt from consumers. The FDCPA does not extend to business debts. Further, it does not usually include collection efforts by the original creditor.
There are thousands of third-party debt collection agencies that are retained by other companies to collect an outstanding debt. Another common practice among these third-party collection agencies is that one company purchased the debt from another company.
Debt collectors are strictly responsible for complying with the laws. Should a debt collector abuse their discretion or break any of these laws, they may be required to compensate the consumer. An experienced attorney will usually work to recover money owed to you as a result of the creditor breaking the law.
Consumers must realize exercising their rights to have a debt collector stop contacting them does not mean the debt collector will not pursue other legal methods to collect on the debt. It is best to consult with an attorney as soon as possible to discuss your rights and protections under the law.
How Creditors Commonly Breach the FDCPA
The FDCPA sets forth strict measures on exactly how creditors are permitted to collect debt. Debt collectors are known for skirting too close to the line, which usually results in debt collectors ultimately crossing it and violating your rights. The FDCPA provides legal remedies and measures to allow for compensation if a debt collector breaches any requirement under the Act.
Written Notice as Proof of Debt Required by the FDCPA
Most collection efforts will start with a telephone call. Exactly five days after their initial contact with you, they are required to send you written notice. Therefore, Debt collectors are obligated to send a formal written notice expressly indicating:
- The amount of debt
- The creditor in which the debt is owed
- Notify the consumer that they have 30 days to dispute the listed debt in writing.
If a debt collector receives written notice that a consumer has formally disputed the debt, they, in turn, have 30 days to provide written verification and validation of the debt owed, in addition to whom the debt is owed. If the debtor fails to provide written verification, along with supporting documentation, they cannot pursue their collection efforts.
The debtor may also send what is known as a “Cease and Desist” letter to the collector. Upon receipt of the written cease and desist letter, they must immediately cease all communication.
Harassment from Debt Collectors is Illegal Under the FDCPA
Harassment is one of the most common violations of the FDCPA. The harassment comes in many different forms that you need to be aware of. Repetitive phone calls, especially after you have asked the collector to stop, can reach the level of harassment under the FDCPA. Debt collectors are not permitted to contact you before 8:00 a.m. or any time after 9:00 p.m.
Specifically, debt collectors cannot constantly call you with the intention of annoying you. A few examples that may rise to the level of harassment include:
- Excessive Phone Calls to the Consumer – debt collectors can leave your phone ringing off the hook. If they continue to call after you have asked them to stop, you may be entitled to compensation.
- Harassment on Social Media – It is unlawful for a third-party debt collector to attempt to contact you and harass you on social media.
- Contacting Friends and Family – Debt collectors are not permitted to contact anyone but you about the debt owed without your permission. They cannot reach out to family members, employers, or friends, specifically about your debt. In some situations, they may be permitted to speak with your spouse.
- Robocalling – Under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), it is usually illegal for a debt collector to use an autodialer without your consent. There are some serious monetary penalties that the debt collector can face if they engage in this activity.
- Abusive Conduct – A debt collector cannot engage in any conduct which would be considered offensive, abusive, or belittling while engaged in collection efforts with a consumer. All of the above-listed may constitute harassment under the FDCPA. Contacting an attorney can evaluate your potential case and discuss what you may be entitled to.
Threats or Intimidation by Collections Firms
Debt collectors commonly practice “intimidation” techniques. This includes calling and hanging up. A debt collector cannot mislead you about the debt or provide a false statement concerning the debt owed. A debt collector cannot collect or attempt to collect debt that you did not agree to pay. Another intimidation tactic debt collectors like to use on consumers is the threat of repossessing their property.
Debt collectors may also threaten to garnish your wages or other legal action to further coerce you. Sometimes the debt collectors can elicit absurd threats insinuating if you may be placed under arrest and face jail time. They cannot threaten you with violence or engage in abusive or obscene conduct. A debt collector cannot engage in any conduct which would be considered offensive, abusive, or belittling during their collection efforts with a consumer.
Misrepresentation or False Statements and Your Credit
A debt collector cannot mislead you or lie about the debt or provide a false statement in relation to the debt owed. A debt collector must disclose their identity over the phone. They cannot collect or attempt to collect debt that you did not agree to pay. However, they can claim the debt itself and any interest accrued when you took on the debt, but nothing more.
Under the FDCPA, in most circumstances, relatives are not mandated to pay the debts of a deceased family member. These family members are afforded the same protections and rights from third-party debt collectors.
How to Tell the Difference Between a Debt Collector and Scammer
An ongoing issue is when a scammer poses as a debt collector. The scammers are always on the lookout and have crafted schemes to defraud consumers. These scam artists typically use intimidation tactics to scare consumers into paying them.
It is important to be able to determine between an actual debt collector and a scam artist. They call the consumer acting as a debt collection agency. Scam artists are sneaky and usually already have access to your personal information. They typically obtain this information through forms of identity theft or by getting their hands on your credit report.
By having this personal information, they are able to pitch you a script that is very convincing and believable. The credit report shows the consumer’s account currently in debt. The scammer will pose as the company that you may actually owe money to. If the consumer pays toward this amount to the scammer, not only are they out any funds paid, but the scammer just gained their personal financial information.
There are a few telltale signs of a scammer:
- Abusive tactics and portray immediate legal action
- Attempts to force the consumer to pay “today.”
- They on accept one method of payment
- Refuses to provide their name or location
Thousands of consumers fall victim to identity theft each year. A con artist can take other loans out in your name, leaving you with the bill. They have also been known to clone credit or debit cards to make purchases. If you believe you are the victim of identity theft, it is crucial to contact an attorney to discuss the next steps and determine how you can protect yourself.
Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act
The Fair Credit Reporting Act restricts a creditor from reporting negative and potentially harmful information to a consumer’s credit report when they have reasonable knowledge that information is not accurate. The Act also mandates creditors to correct any information that resulted from any instance of identity theft.
If you discover the information on your credit report is not correct, you can file a dispute with the credit bureau and request that it be removed after investigation. If the creditor fails to correct the inaccurate information, you have the right to file a lawsuit and recover damages you suffered as a result of the creditor’s negligence. This helpful video below lists out all the items that can be removed from your report if they’re found to be false.
Consumers and Zombie Debts
Zombie debts have become extremely prevalent and popular among debt collectors. Zombie debts are older debts that have not been paid. These are generally debts that you may not be legally obligated to pay because they are barred by the statute of limitations.
Consumers can be haunted by zombie debts. Contacting an experienced attorney after you have been contacted about an old debt can be a game-changer. An attorney can evaluate the information and advise how you should proceed. The attorney can refer to state laws to confirm if the debt is or is not outside of the statute of limitations.
The Importance of Retaining an Experienced Attorney to Protect your Rights
The FDCPA is an Act that protects the consumer. Retaining an experienced attorney is crucial at the front end to ensure your rights are protected. Under the Act, once a debt collector has been put on notice or has knowledge that you are represented by legal counsel, they generally cannot continue to contact you. Instead, they must direct any and all future communication to your attorney.
An attorney has the ability to subpoena records to prove excessive calls and other unlawful conduct. It is essential that the consumer keep documentation as well as a record of the debt collectors’ illegal practices. This and other documentation will help the attorney build the case and fight on your behalf.
As with any legal action, time is of the essence. Under the FDCPA, the consumer has one year from the violation to file a claim against the debt collector. If an action is not filed within one year after the date of the violation, you may be barred from filing a lawsuit.
The attorney will be prepared to discuss the compensation you may be entitled to. The awards will vary depending on the facts and merits of each individual case. Damages under the FDCPA provides up to $1,000.00 to a consumer who has, pursuant to the FDCPA, endured harassment.
Under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), a consumer may be entitled to $1,500.00 per call from an autodialer, prerecorded, or automated message without your consent. This is all in addition to actual damages, which include out of pocket expenses and emotional damages.
Hiring an Attorney to Fight FDCPA Violations
If you think any of these rules apply to your collections case, it might be a good idea to check with an attorney and see if the collector did in fact break the law. There are many law firms out there that specialize in consumer rights and they’re just a quick Google search away. Know your rights and seek legal assistance when you think it may be necessary to defend them.
*This post is meant to be educational only and should not be taken as legal advice.