The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
If you owe money to creditors and are behind on payments, you may receive phone calls regarding your past due amounts owed. Sometimes the phone calls and other communications are intrusive, obnoxious, and inappropriate. Fortunately, there are laws to protect debtors from unscrupulous creditors. You may have more power than you think. You have legal rights that debt collectors must honor. And you may be entitled to pursue remedies if those rights are violated.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is a federal law that protects debtors and makes it illegal for debt collectors to use any kind of abusive, deceptive or unfair practices when they attempt to collect a debt. While the law will not eliminate the debt that is owed by a debtor, the law specifically restricts the ways collectors can contact debtors. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act covers debt including medical debts, credit cards, mortgages, and other personal, family or household debts. However, any debts owed by a business are not covered by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
The restrictions imposed by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act on debt collectors are detailed. These restrictions include the time of day and the number of times a creditor can attempt to contact a debtor. If a debt collector violates the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the debtor can actually bring suit and collect for damages and attorney fees.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act: What A Debt Collector is Required to Tell a Debtor
When a debt collector contacts a debtor, by law they must say certain information regarding the debt including the following:
- The name of the creditor
- The amount owed
- That you can request the name and address of the original creditor
- That you have a legal right to dispute the debt
If a debt collector does not provide this legally required information when they contact you, they are required to send you a written notice within five days of that first contact. You may consider speaking with the debt collector for the first contact, just to ensure that the debt is a valid one and is your debt. However, always be careful about sharing any personal information to anyone over the telephone or email.
Restrictions on Communications by Debt Collectors
The following are the restrictions placed on debt collectors attempting to collect a debt under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act:
Time and Place. Debt collectors may not call you at an unusual time or place, before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. Additionally, if a debt collector knows that you are not able to receive calls at work, then the debt collector may not contact you there.
No Harassment. Debt collectors are not allowed to harass a debtor in any way.
Representation by Attorney. If a debt collector knows that you are being represented by an attorney regarding the debt, he or she must immediately cease contact with you, and only contact your attorney instead.
No Lying. Debt collectors must tell the truth. They are not allowed to misrepresent the amount you owe, lie about who they are, or falsely claim you will be subject to legal prosecution or that any legal action will be taken against you if it is not true.
No Engaging in Unfair Practices. A debt collector may not try to collect fees, interest or other charges that are illegal. They may not threaten to take your property unless it can be done legally and they cannot deposit a post-dated check early.
How to Enforce Your Rights Under the FDCA
If you tell a debt collector in writing to stop contacting you, the debt collector legally must stop all contact except to tell you (1) that there will be no further contact and (2) there may be specific legal action such as a lawsuit regarding the debt.
It is important to note that telling a debt collector not to contact you does not remove or dissolve the debt in any way. The debt collector can pursue other means to attempt to collect the debt, including filing a lawsuit.
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