If you fall behind on your debts, you will soon be contacted by your creditors or their debt collectors. Fortunately, there are protections in place that can keep you from receiving harassing or threatening calls or the deceptive practices from unscrupulous collectors. Just because you may be in a difficult financial situation, it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person or a criminal and deserve to be treated like one.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) was enacted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to protect consumers from the abusive practices of debt collectors. It outlines the measures that debt collectors are allowed to take when trying to collect a debt and those that they are not.
The types of debt that are covered under the FDCPA are personal, family, and household debt including personal credit cards, auto loans, medical bills, and mortgages. It does not cover debts that you may have incurred as a business.
Under the act, debt collectors must follow strict guidelines of when and where they may contact you. They can’t call you anytime day or night; they may only call between the hours of 8 am and 9 pm unless you have agreed otherwise. They can call you at work, but only if you are allowed to receive calls there, and if you notify them over the phone or in writing that you can’t receive calls at work, they must stop.
Debt collectors can contact you through mail, email, text message, or by phone, but they must disclose to you that they are in fact debt collectors. They may not contact you using postcards. It is a violation of the Act for them to claim to be someone else in order to deceive you into paying or threaten you into doing so, such as claiming to be a government agent or a lawyer. They’re not allowed to harass or threaten you in any way. Nor are they allowed to publish your name anywhere as someone who hasn’t paid a debt other than with one of the credit reporting agencies. They can’t use profanities or make false statements such as claiming you’ve committed a crime or that they work for a credit reporting agency. In regards to any forms they may send you, they are not allowed to claim that non-legal forms are legal or that legal forms are non-legal.
They cannot threaten legal action if they cannot or do not intend to follow through; nor can they threaten to seize your property or garnish your wages unless the law allows them to take such actions.
The law also protects against unfair practices such as adding on fees, interest, or other charges for the debt collection unless your original contract with the creditor specifies this or if your state law allows it. If you are attempting to pay them and you post-date a check until you’ll have the money in your account, they are not allowed to cash that check early. If they are collecting more than one debt, they must post your payment to whichever debt you choose.
If you are contacted by a debt collector for a debt that you don’t believe you owe, send the debt collector a letter stating this within 30 days of them contacting you, and include a copy of any supporting documentation you have. Once they receive the letter asking for debt verification, they must stop all collection efforts while they investigate the claim. However, if they verify that the debt is yours, they may resume contacting you to collect the debt.
If you have filed for bankruptcy protection, debt collectors must stop contacting you to collect the debt while the bankruptcy process is going on. If they continue, contact your bankruptcy attorney.
If you have been receiving calls and letters from a debt collector who you feel is violating the FDCPA, report them to your state’s Attorney General, the FTC, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It’s important to note that your state’s laws may differ from the FDCPA, but your state’s Attorney General can help determine if the debt collector has violated the law.
If you’re receiving collection calls and don’t know where to turn, we can help. The attorneys at Miller, Hollander, & Jeda have 35 years of experience helping people get out of financial trouble through bankruptcy. Call today at (239)775-2000 for a free consultation to find out if bankruptcy can help you get back on the road to financial stability.