Most of us have, at one point or another, been contacted by a debt collector. Whether we have had some unforeseen emergency arise or are simply behind in our bills, it is not hard to fall into debt. When we fall behind and those debt collectors start calling, our stress levels ratchet up about ten notches. Some of us stop answering the phone all together for fear that we might have to talk to one of these pushy, frightening, demoralizing people.
However, you still have rights and resources at your disposal. Just because you are in debt doesn't mean collectors have the right to harass you.
The FDCPA - Your Shield against Unfair Collection Tactics
The Federal Trade Commission enforces a piece of legislation known as the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. This law is meant as a form of consumer protection to defend people against abusive or deceptive practices on the part of collectors.
The law applies unilaterally to collection agencies, lawyers and companies which buy delinquent debts for the purpose of collection.
What is the FDCPA?
The Act applies to personal, family and household debts. This can include anything from credit card debt and individual loans to medical bills or even your mortgage. However, it does not apply to business debts.
Under the Act, debt collectors have certain restrictions on the time, place and manner in which they may contact you.
Can I Stop Debt Collectors from Contacting Me?
If a debt collector does contact you, it would be a good idea to speak with the person at least once to see if the matter can be easily resolved. For example, if you already know you cannot repay the debt immediately, you may be able to work out an agreement. Or if you are super lucky, they may be contacting the wrong person!
However, if you do not want to be contacted again, you may tell them so in a written letter. If you decide to do so, keep a copy of your letter and send the original draft via certified mail. You should also opt for a return receipt for the purpose of documenting exactly what the collector received.
After the collector receives this letter, they can contact you again for one of two purposes. First, they can contact you to inform you that there will be no further communication. Or, the collector might call to inform you that they have opted to take further legal action in order to enforce the debt.
What Other Limitations Does the FDCPA Place On Debt Collectors?
The Act does more than bring a conclusion to harassing phone calls. The FDCPA has many more rules that apply to who collectors can talk to, when they can contact you and the language they can use. Here are just some of the rights debtors have under the FDCPA. Debt collectors cannot:
- Contact third parties regarding anything other than your address, phone number or workplace. If you hire an attorney, they must contact the attorney rather than you.
- Harass you with threats of violence, obscene language or the publishing of your name as a debtor.
- Make false statements - this includes misrepresenting themselves, those for whom they work, or the amount you owe.
- Falsely accuse you of committing a crime and claiming certain forms are legal forms when they are not (or vice versa).
- Deposit a post-dated check before its post date.
- Threaten you with arrest or the seizure or garnishment of wages or property - garnishment can only be carried out by court order.
- Contact you before 8am or after 9pm.
Don't Assume All Tactics are Illegal
Many debt collectors will toe the line when it comes to what they can and cannot do. However, you should not automatically assume the tactic they are using is faulty.
Make sure you carefully review any written communication that comes from the debt collectors. For example, you might receive a court summons if the collector chooses to garnish your wages. Don't ignore this; a court appearance is your opportunity to fight the garnishment of your wages or applicable federal benefits.
Know Your Rights
If a collector opts to sue you, it is important that you take action right away. You'll want to contact a debt harassment lawyer to discuss your options. A debt harassment lawyer can also help you with litigation if you choose to press charges against the harasser.
If you have been a victim of any of these illegal tactics, you have the right to sue a collector within one year of the incident for any damages incurred, as well as court costs and legal fees.
Only by knowing what debt collectors can do may you defend yourself against what they cannot do. Have you been a victim of harassment at the hands of debt collectors? Tell us about your experience in the comment section below.
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