Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair or deceptive practices to collect on alleged debt from consumers. The Federal Trade Commission enacted the FDCPA to protect consumers from harassment and other unethical debt collection practices. Such practices have become much more prevalent in recent years, causing a spike in personal bankruptcy filings.
The law applies only to debt collectors, who are defined as those who collect on debts owed to others. Collectors may be collection agencies, attorneys and companies that buy delinquent debt from creditors in order to collect.
The law does not apply to the original creditors. The FDCPA covers personal, family and household debts including credit cards, home/auto loans, retail refinancing and medical bills.
Consumer Protection Rights Under the FDCPA
Oftentimes, debt collectors are aggressive in their attempts to collect on a debt. However, the FDCPA places restrictions on debt collectors to ensure consumers are being treated fairly and allotting them the time they need to settle the debt.
Debt collectors are not permitted to contact you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. They may not contact you at work if you tell them in writing that you aren’t allowed to receive calls during business hours.
If you inform the collector in writing that you want him or her to stop contacting you, the collector is required under the FDCPA to cease communication. This doesn’t protect you from a potential law suit in the future in pursuit of collection but it does legally compel the collector to stop calling you.
Off-Limit Practices for Debt Collectors
Debt collectors are required to tell consumers about the debt they are attempting to collect by sending a written notice indicating the name of the creditor, the amount owed and instructions on how to repay the debt. This is called the validation notice and must be sent to the consumer within five days of initial contact.
Under the FDCPA debt collectors are barred from engaging in the following practices:
Harassment: debt collectors may not harass, oppress or abuse the consumer by using threats of harm, using obscene or profane language or repeatedly contacting the consumer via telephone with the intention of causing an annoyance.
False Statements: debt collectors are forbidden from lying in an attempt to collect a debt. Some examples include falsely identifying themselves as attorneys or government representative, claim that you have committed a crime or misrepresent the amount you owe.
Unfair Practices: debt collectors may not engage in unfair debt collection practices by trying to collect interest or a fee beyond the total amount the consumer owes, depositing a post-dated check or contacting the consumer by postcard.
Wage Garnishment: debt collectors are not legally allowed to garnish wages or bank accounts unless the creditor sues the consumer and is granted a court order requiring a third party, such as bank, to turn over funds from the account to pay the debt. Even then, many federal benefits are exempt from garnishment, including Social Security, student assistance and military annuities.
Actions Consumers Can Take Under the FDCPA
If you believe a debt collector has violated the law, take action. You reserve the right to sue a collector in a state or federal court within one year from the date the law was alleged to be violated.
Meticulous documentation is important when dealing with debt collectors. A log of – and copies off – records of phone calls, voice mails, text messages and letters can be persuasive evidence to a judge or jury. Taken together, the records can show a pattern of behavior.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) advocates for consumers to prevent deceptive and unfair business practices. Many states have their own debt collection laws that may differ from and strengthen the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
Because of this, it is important to reach out to your Attorney General’s office to determine your individual rights under that law before pursuing legal action against a debt collector.