Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
(FDCPA) makes it illegal for debt collectors to engage in abusive
or deceptive practices when trying to collect money owed on
delinquent credit card accounts, car loans, medical bills,
mortgages and other debts. And there is a good chance the Consumer
Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will
improve consumer rights
The government agency requested public feedback on debt
collection practices. The ideas floated in the CFPB's 2014 request
for comments include requiring collectors to tell you when a debt
is too old to be the basis of a lawsuit in your state. The agency
may raise the standards for documents that collectors have about an
account, which currently can be lost or degraded as debts are
passed from one debt buyer to another.
1. Debt collectors may not harass you.
Calling multiple times a day about a debt or contacting you at
unusual times is considered harassment. A debt collector cannot
before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m
, unless you explicitly tell them it's OK. A debt collector also
cannot call you at work if you tell them not to. Finally, if you
instruct a debt
collector in writing to stop calling you
, he or she can only contact you to let you know about an action
being taken against you, such as a lawsuit.
2. Debt collectors may not make idle threats.
If a debt collector threatens an action, he or she must be able and
willing to follow through with it. Debt collectors cannot threaten
to sue you when they know for a fact they will not or the debt
cannot be pursued in court, says Alexis Moore, a consumer advocate
and author of "Cyber Self-Defense." They also cannot say they will
repossess your property or garnish your wages unless they are
permitted by law to do and have plans to follow up on the threat.
Debt collectors can never threaten bodily harm.
3. Debt collectors may not withhold pertinent
Debt collectors must not only tell you who they are and how you can
reach them, but they must tell you how much you owe. A debt
collector must also send what's called a 'validation notice,' which
is a written document with that same information within
of first contacting with you. The letter allows you to dispute the
debt within 30 days if it is not yours. If you choose not to
dispute the debt within that 30-day timeframe, the collector then
assumes the debt is yours and can continue its efforts to collect
If you are not sure the debt is yours, you need to compose and
mail a debt validation letter to the collector requesting further
proof that the debt is truly yours. Once a collection agency
receives your letter (which should be sent certified mail
with a return receipt request), it cannot continue to contact you
until it sends you the information you requested.
4. Debt collectors may not misrepresent themselves.
Nobody wants to go to court, and debt collectors often use the
specter of litigation or a fear of breaking the law to scare
consumers into paying up. If a debt collector claims to be an
attorney or to represent the government, look up the number for the
law firm or government agency they claim to represent and call them
back to verify.
5. Debt collectors cannot shame you into paying
If a debt collector threatens to expose you for being delinquent on
a payment, he or she is bluffing. Debt collectors cannot contact
you via postcard where others can see what you owe or feature
anything on an envelope that indicates that you owe a debt. Debt
collectors also cannot publish your name to any public lists of
people who owe money. Finally, debt collectors can't contact your
employer or family members to inquire about your debt, though debt
collectors can contact others to find out your address or phone
6. Debt collectors may not threaten to throw you in jail.
Not only do consumers have to be on the lookout for illegal debt
collection practices, but "there are a lot of scammers out there
masquerading as legitimate bill collectors," says Steve Katz,
founder of Debtorboards.com, an online community that discusses
debt collection practices.
In fact, the
average financial loss
reported by victims of debt collection scams between October 2013
and June 2014 was $1,748, according to Fraud.org. A common tactic
among scammers is to threaten jail time in order to get money from
their victims. However, under the act, debt collectors are
threatening to arrest
you if you don't pay up.
7. Debt collectors may not use abusive language.
While debt collectors have the right to go after money that is
legitimately owed to them, they must be respectful. If a debt
collector uses profanity or obscene language, not only are they
violating the act, but they may be a fraudster.
8. Debt collectors may not overcharge.
A debt collector cannot charge you interest or any other fees that
are not explicitly allowed under the contract the debt was created
under. Debt collectors also can't deposit a post-dated check
How to fight back
If you get a call from a debt collector that violates your rights,
relay that you're familiar with the Fair Debt Collection Practices
Act, and that may stop any offenses from being repeated, suggests
Jonathan Sasse, chief marketing officer of PrivacyStar, the
developer of a smartphone app that helps consumers report abusive
debt collection practices. If it doesn't, keep copies of all
written correspondence and write down each time a collector calls
you, as well as notes about the conversation. Then report these
incidents to the
Federal Trade Commission
your state's attorney general
If you want to take it further, contact the
National Association of Consumer Advocates
to find an attorney who specializes in debt collector abuse. A bill
collector can be required to pay you up to $1,000 per
When it comes to debt collection, education is power. "There are
laws out there that protect people," says Sasse, "and some stiff
penalties for breaking those rules."
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