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What Are My Rights Against A Debt Collector?

Have you ever corresponded with a debt collector? You may or may not have known about your debt collection rights, which are in place to protect you from harassment, breach of confidentiality, and misrepresentation.

In the United States, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is a federal law that dictates how debt collectors can go about collecting specific types of debt, including credit card debt, medical debt, mortgage debt, and other personal or family debt. It does not cover business debt.

As a consumer, it's important that you understand your rights under the FDCPA, which include protection from the following five categories

Unjust Practices

While debt collectors may be persistent in their effort to collect consumer debt, they may not rely on unjust or outrageous practices to do so. They are prohibited from engaging in the following methods:

  • Depositing a check postdated by more than five days without giving three to ten days' notice
  • Depositing a postdated check before the date listed on the check
  • Adding interest or unauthorized fees to the balance
  • Communicating by postcard or indicating on the outside of an envelope that they are attempting to collect a debt
  • Threatening to seize your property without any right or intention of doing so
  • Threatening to sue you without any intention of doing so

Harassment

In addition, debt collectors may not harass the people from whom they are trying to collect. You may hang up immediately and file a complaint if the collector:

  • Calls repeatedly
  • Calls without identifying themselves as a bill collector
  • Uses profane or obscene language
  • Threatens violence
  • Threatens to harm you or another person's property, or damage your or another person's reputation
  • Lists your debt for sale to the public
  • Publishes your name as an individual who doesn't pay bills*

*Child support collectors are exempt from this in certain states.

Inconvenient or Unjust Communication

From the debt collector's first communication with you, he or she must clearly state that they are trying to collect a debt and that any information they obtain will be used exclusively for that purpose. In all future correspondence with you, the collector must share both their name and the name of the collection agency.

The collector may not communicate with you:

  • At inconvenient times or places, before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. (unless you work nights, in which case the collector must adhere to your sleep schedule)
  • Directly, if the collector knows you have an attorney
  • At work, specifically if the collector knows your employer prohibits collection calls in the workplace. (If the collector does contact you at work, simply ask them to stop, and consider reporting any future violations.)

In turn, if you send a written request for the debt collector to cease contact with you, they must abide by your wishes. This does not mean your debt simply goes away, however.

Third-Party Communication

This category is rather complex, as debt collectors are allowed to correspond with the following third parties regarding your debt:

  • The original collector
  • Credit reporting agencies
  • Your attorney
  • Your spouse or co-debtors (unless you have sent a letter asking the collector to stop contacting them)

And while debt collectors may not correspond with other third-party entities regarding your debt, they may contact others to determine your whereabouts. That said, they must state their name and that they are simply confirming your location, and are not allowed to:

  • Identify their employer unless they are asked to do so
  • Communicate by postcard or indicate on the outside of an envelope that they are attempting to collect a debt
  • Contact a third party more than once unless the third party requires them to do so, or unless the third party provided inaccurate or incomplete information
  • Contact a third party for location information if they know the consumer is represented by an attorney

Misrepresentation

Finally, debt collectors are prohibited from lying or misrepresenting themselves. Collection agencies may not:

  • Falsely represent the amount you owe
  • Falsely claim you've committed a crime
  • Claim to be an attorney, or claim to work for a law enforcement agency or government entity
  • Communicate false credit information
  • Communicate empty threats (i.e., they may not make repeated “final demands” to collect)
  • Send false written documentation (i.e., documents that appear to be from an attorney or a court of law)
  • State a false business name

Following a violation of the FDCPA, consumers can file a complaint, negotiate a better settlement, or even sue the collector. The FDCPA does not usually include collection by the creditor to whom the consumer initially became indebted, nor does it apply to creditors collecting their debts. Creditors' collection practices may vary depending on the legal restrictions in their state.

For more information on Fighting Debt Collectors, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (515) 451-1260 today.

This is just general information and is not intended as legal advice.  Everyone's situation is different and one should contact competent counsel about their specific legal issue!

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