Debt Collection Harassment: Know Your Rights
Protection from collectors abusive, deceptive and unfair debt collection practices is provided in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
Abusive debt collection practices can lead consumers to
experience personal bankruptcy, troubled marriages, lost jobs and compromised
privacy. To eliminate such practices and to encourage the proper collection of
debts, laws are available to protect you against debt collection abuses.
This article looks at your rights in dealing with debt
collectors who are willing to say anything true or not to get you to part
with your money.
Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) prohibits
collectors from engaging in a wide range of abusive and harassing conduct. This
federal law generally applies to third-party debt collectors, such as collection
agencies, debt buyers, and attorneys who regularly collect debts. It also
applies to consumer debts, i.e., debts that were incurred primarily for
personal, family or household purposes, such as car loans, mortgages, charge
accounts and medical bills.
Under the law, debt collectors cannot harass, oppress or
abuse you or anyone else they contact, and you are protected whether or not the
money being collected is actually owed.
Prohibited Debt Collection Tactics
To protect you, the FDCPA imposes on debt collectors a
number of prohibitions. Under these key provisions, a debt collector generally
contact you at unreasonable times, such as
before 8:00 AM or after 9:00 PM, unless you agree;
contact you at work if you tell the collector
your employer disapproves;
communicate with third parties, such as
friends, neighbors and children;
contact you after you write a letter telling
the collector to stop, except to notify you if the collector or creditor plans
to take a specific action;
harass you with repeated phone calls, obscene
or profane language, or threats to harm you;
make any false representations of the amount or
legal status of any debt;
make any false statement or claim that you will
be arrested; or
threaten to have money deducted from your
paycheck or to sue you, unless that course of action is legal and the collector
or creditor intends to pursue it.
The FDCPA also imposes affirmative obligations upon debt
collectors. For example, the collector must disclose in the initial written
communication with you (and in addition, if the initial communication is oral,
in that oral communication) that the collector is attempting to collect a debt
and that any information obtained will be used for that purpose. The collector
must disclose in subsequent communications that the communication is from a debt
Also, within five days after the initial communication,
the collector generally must send you a written notice that tells you the name
of the creditor, how much you owe, and what action to take if you believe you do
not owe the money.
You have 30 days to dispute the debts validity; if you
timely dispute the debts validity in writing, the collector must stop
collection efforts until the collector provides verification of the debt.
If a debt collector violates your rights under the
FDCPA, the law gives you private remedies. Generally, within one year of the
violation, you can file suit in court against the collector for up to $1,000 in
statutory damages, your attorneys fees, and your actual damages.
Protecting Your Rights
In handling a past-due debt, it is to your advantage to
try to deal with the problem before the creditor refers the debt to a collector.
If you are unable to resolve the debt, it is important to know your rights.
Based on the FDCPAs protections, here are a few things to consider if a
collector comes calling:
Be sure the collector and the debt are
If you recognize the debt, contact the
collector to work out a repayment plan that makes sense for you.
If you are not sure the debt is yours, write
the collector and ask for formal written verification of the debt, including
proof that the debt is yours.
If the debt is not yours, write the collector
to tell the collector the debt is not yours and that you do not want to be
contacted about it again.
Keep all collection letters you receive and
make copies of the letters you send, in case you need to dispute the issue
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