At one time it was legal for debt collectors to hound you into paying debts. However, after the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) was passed, consumers are much more protected from these practices.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) prohibits collection agencies from using unfair, deceptive or abusive practices . Specific collection practices that are illegal include:
- Harass you or use oppressive practices. Debt collectors threaten to harm or use violence, publish a list of consumers who refuse to pay their debts, use obscenity or profanity, make contacts with the consumer's employer, make annoying telephone calls or try to contact you at inconvenient times
- Make false statements. Debt collectors can't use false or misleading statements about you or to you in order to try to get you pay your debt
- Threaten arrest. State that a lawsuit will be filed against you when they don't intend to or can't take such action
- Give false information. Report incorrect data to anyone, including a credit bureau or use anything that looks like an official government or court document when it isn't official
- Use unfair practices. Debt collectors can't force you to pay more than you owe, deposit a post-dated check prematurely, use deception to make you pay for collect calls or telegrams in any way other than by legal means
- Seize or threaten property. State that they'll seize, garnish or attach your property or wages (unless it is authorized by law to do so) to obtain payment
Who can be defined as a debt collector? The FDCPA doesn't apply to some creditors or government agencies who are legitimately trying to collect debts. The law does apply to creditors who:
- Are debt collection agencies
- Use false name or falsely represent that they are a collection agency
- Creditors who collect debts for other collection agencies
- Collection attorneys
- Companies or people who purchase delinquent debts
- Repossession companies
- Suppliers or designers of fake form that state they're a debt collection agency
Your Rights under the FDCPA
The FDCPA provides the following rights:
- A written notice telling you the amount of the debt, the name of the creditor and the actions you can take if you believe you don't own the debt.
- In reaction to the dispute letter, the collector can't contact you. However, collection activities can start up if you receive proof of the existing debt.
- If you give a debt collector money to make a payment on a specific debt, them money must be applied to the debt as you instructed. A debt collector can't apply your payment to a debt you believe you do not owe.
Contact your state's Attorney General if you feel a debt collector is violating the law. If you feel it's gone past that point, you can file a complaint to the Federal Trade Commision. You can also consult an attorney about filing a lawsuit. Criminal or civil penalties on the collector can result from violations.
Questions for Your Attorney
- What kind of practices does the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibit?
- Who is considered a debt collector under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act?
- What are my rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act?