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In digging for information on how to deal with a wayward debt collector, I ran across a good bit of information on the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Here’s a plain English rundown of the protections that the FDCPA affords if a creditor turns your account over to a third party debt collector…
First off, according to an article from Bankrate.com, collection agencies can’t:
» Call before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
» Talk to anyone but you (or your attorney, if you have one) about the debt.
» Threaten to garnish wages or seize property unless they actually intend to do so. Garnishment is illegal in some states, and in others requires a court order. In many cases, property seizure is not permitted. Check with your state attorney general’s office or state consumer protection office to find out what is legal in your state.
» Threaten to sue unless they are actually taking legal action. In some states, third-party collection agencies may not sue.
» Threaten you with arrest or jail.
» Use obscene language.
» Annoy or harass you with repeated calls.
» Call at work if you have asked them to stop.
» Falsely claim to be an attorney, a representative from a credit bureau or a member of law enforcement.
After digging though the FDCPA myself, I also learned that they can’t:
(1) Threaten you with violence or other criminal means of physical harm or harm to your reputation or property.
(2) Repeatedly or continuously call you with the intent to annoy, abuse, or harass you (although it seems like “intent” is a bit nebulous and hard to prove).
(3) Publish a list of debtors.
(4) Contact you (except for very specific purposes) if you notify them in writing that you want to cease further communication.
(5) Use false, deceptive, or misleading practices in connection with the collection of any debt (this includes the false threats of litigation mentioned above).
Beyond this, they also have to provide you with “validation” of the alleged debt (assuming that you ask for it in writing). Such validation includes the amount of the debt, the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed, a statement that the debt will be assumed valid unless you object to it within 30 days, a statement that they will obtain verification of the debt or a copy of the judgment against the you if you object to the debt, and the name and address of the original creditor (again, if you object).
There are actually a number of other useful tidbits contained within the FDCPA, so I encourage you to give it a quick read if you’re ever faced with a call from a collection agency.