In 1978, citing “abundant evidence of the use of abusive, deceptive and unfair debt-collection practices by many debt collectors,” the U.S. Congress passed the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, establishing strict guidelines on the types of tactics debt collectors can use to collect a debt. Some states have used the FDCPA as a model, enacting consumer protection legislation that applies the same rules to creditors as well.
Acts That Are Prohibited under the FDCPA
As a general rule, a debt collector is prohibited by the Fair Debt Collection Act from contacting third parties about your debt, with the following exceptions:
- Your legal counsel—If a debt collector knows that you are represented by legal counsel, all contact must be through your attorney, unless you give express permission to be contacted directly.
- The original creditor
- A credit reporting agency
- Your spouse, parent (only if you are a minor) and any cosigner. (although they must stop these types of contact if you request so in writing)
A debt collector may contact a third party to gather information about your whereabouts, but the conversation can go no further. There can be no reference to any debt you owe, or even to the name of the company the debt collector represents or works for.
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In their contact with a debtor, collectors are restricted with respect to when or where they can call—they can’t all your place of work if your employer prohibits you from taking personal calls. They generally can’t call before a certain time in the morning or after a certain time at night. In addition, if you have advised them that you are represented by counsel, they must contact your attorney—they cannot contact you directly.
The FDCPA prohibits conduct perceived to be harassment or abuse, such as repeated phone calls, the use of obscene or abusive language, or threats to harm you or your reputation. A bill collector cannot call you without identifying who he or she is, and may not threaten to sell your property without legal authority.
Bill collectors are also precluded from lying or making false representation, from falsely claiming that you’ve committed a crime, or from threatening to take action that can’t be taken (having you arrested).
Your Right to Recovery for Violations
Under the FDCPA, you can seek compensation for actual losses, for any damages set forth in statutes, and for any attorney fees and costs incurred.
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