Even the Debt Collectors Have Rules to Play By

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 debt collectorsAt the end of a long work day, and after you have put the kids to bed, cleaned dishes, all you want to do is relax. Then the phone rings…and rings…and rings. You recognize the number as a collection agency calling about your delinquent credit card bill. What are debt collectors allowed to do and what is off limits? Why do you have to do in order for the phone calls to stop and to finally have some peace and quiet?

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) prohibits collection companies from engaging in unfair, abusive or deceptive practices while collecting a debt from you. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) defines debt collectors as those who regularly collects debts owed to others. This can include collection agencies, companies that buy delinquent debts, and even attorneys who collect debts on a regular basis. The FDCPA covers personal, family, and household debts (i.e. credit card accounts, auto loans, medical bills and mortgages).

Here are five things that debt collectors are prohibited from doing:

  1. Collectors Cannot Use Harassing or Abusive Statements. This includes (i) threatening to have you arrested or jailed, (ii) threatening to take your social security payments, (iii) threatening to cause physical injury to you or your property, (iv) using profane language, and (v) they are not allowed to threaten to send false information about you to the credit reporting agencies. I have clients come into my office fearful that they need to pay their debts immediately because the Sheriff will arrest them if they do not pay. This is absolutely not true. 
  1. Time When Collectors can Contact You is Limited. The FDCPA prohibits creditors from contacting debtors at inconvenient times or places, such as before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m.  Also, debt collectors are prohibited from contacting you at work if they are told that you are not allowed to receive calls there. 
  1. Creditors Cannot Use False or Misleading Statements. Collectors cannot misrepresent the character, amount or legal status of a debt.  They cannot pretend to work for a credit reporting agency or work for a government agency.  Unless they are an attorney or work for one, they cannot claim they do.  Finally, they cannot send you fake legal papers to confuse you, or tell you to ignore real legal papers.
  1. If you are represented by an attorney, and you make this clear to the debt collection company, they must contact your attorney rather than you. However, if you don’t have an attorney, the debt collection companies can contact 3rd parties, but only for the purpose of finding out your home address, your home phone number and where you work.  The collectors are generally not allowed to discuss the type of debt, or amount owed with the third party, can only inquire into basic contact information, and typically are not allowed to contact the 3rd party more than once.