Debt collectors are infamous for some of their underhanded tactics used to collect debts from consumers. Many collectors get away with these tricks because consumers are not aware of the laws dictating how collectors can – and how they cannot – deal with consumers when collecting a debt.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, commonly referred to as the FDCPA, is a federal law that governs the actions of parties acting as debt collectors for personal debts. Auto loans, home loans, medical bills, and credit card accounts are all considered personal debts. The FDCPA applies when these debts are being collected by a third-party debt collector, as opposed to the original creditor.
Prohibited Collection Practices
Whenever one of your creditors uses a third-party to collect a debt, that collector is obligated to follow the rules of the FDCPA. There are several things that a debt collector cannot do under the FDCPA. They cannot:
- Call you before 8am or after 9pm
- Call you at work, provided the debt collector is aware your employer does doesn’t approve of these phone calls
- Harass, oppress, or abuse you
- Lie to you or falsely imply that you have committed a crime
- Use unfair practices in an attempt to collect a debt
- Conceal his or her identity on the phone
- Disregard a written request from you to cease further contact
Debt Collection Communication Guidelines
The law also dictates how the debt collector must act when communicating with a person other than the debt collector. The collector is prohibited from giving out information pertaining to your debt to anyone but you or your spouse (or your parent or guardian if you're a minor)].
Debt collectors are not allowed to communicate via post card or use any kind of symbol or language on an envelope that indicates they are a debt collector. Once the debt collector learns you are represented by an attorney – and has the contact information for the attorney – the debt collector can only communicate with the attorney.
Debt collectors are prohibited from using any form of harassment or abuse while attempting to collect. They cannot threaten violence against the debtor, their reputation, or their property. In addition, debt collectors cannot use obscene or profane language when communicating with the debtor via phone or through mail. Collection agencies and their collectors cannot publish any kind of listing of consumers that have not paid debt, except to a consumer bureau.
When Your Rights Have Been Violated
If your rights under the FDCPA have been violated, you have one year from the date of the violation to file a lawsuit against the debt collector. You could receive up to $1,000 in addition to actual damages and attorney fees. Report FDCPA violations to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau via the online complaint form or by calling (855) 411-2372.