Your Rights as a Debtor: The Fair Debt Collection Act
If you’re an individual owing money and that debt has been turned over to a collection agency, you probably have a lot of questions and concerns regarding your rights. Note this Act does not alleviate you from your responsibility to pay back the money you owe. The Act only provides you with specific protection against certain unsavory practices collection agencies have been known to use in the past.
The Act only covers personal, family, and household debts. These types of debts can be a student loan, a car payment, a house payment, or even medical bills.
A collection agency can be an agency hired by the creditor to recover some or all of the money you owe them. The collection agency could also be an attorney getting ready to file a lawsuit against you for debt recovery.
Collection agencies can contact you by the following methods: telegram, mail, telephone, FAX, and by person. Unless you agree otherwise, collection agencies are forbidden from contacting you at unconventional times such as early in the morning or late at night. If you let a collection agency know your employer disapproves of this kind of contact, they may not contact you at work.
By writing a letter to a collection agency, you can make them stop contacting you. I’d recommend sending the letter certified mail with a return card indicating the collection agency received the mail. After they receive the letter, the collection agency can’t contact you again except to let you know they’re no longer going to be contacting you or to let you know they’re taking special action against you.
While the letter should stop the collection agency from contacting you any further, they can still sue you and you still owe the money. The letter doesn’t make the debt go away.
The collection agency must contact your attorney instead of you, if you have an attorney. They can only contact other people to find your whereabouts. This information includes where you live, your contact information, and where you work. Agencies can’t tell anyone other than you or your attorney about the debt.
The collection agency has up to five days after initially contacting you to send you a letter. This letter needs to tell you who you owe the money to (the creditor), how much, and any process you can follow if you disagree with the amount of the debt or whether or not you even owe the debt.
If you respond within 30 days to the initial letter from the collection agency stating you don’t owe any money, then the agency can’t contact you any longer. The only way they can resume contact is if they are able to send you proof of the debut – an invoice or bill for the amount owed.
The Act specifically prohibits the following behavior and activity by the collection agency:
- Harassment against you or another party to include:
- Threats of physical harm.
- Public humiliation by publishing your name as a debtor (they can report you to a credit bureau still).
- Repeatedly using the telephone for annoyance purposes. The use of obscene or profane language.
- False Statements to include:
- Implying they’re from the government or attorneys when they’re not.
- Implying you have committed a crime.
- Implying they work for a credit bureau.
- Implying the debt you owe is anything but the actual amount owed.
- Implying they’re sending you legal papers when they’re actually not.
- Implying they’re not sending you legal papers when they actually are.
- Saying you’ll be arrested if you don’t pay your debt.
- Saying they’ll garner wages, seize property, etc. They can say they will only if they’re legally allowed to (say they sued and won).
- Saying they’ll sue you when they know they won’t.
- Collection Agencies may not:
- Give false information about you to credit bureaus or anyone else.
- Deposit a post-dated check earlier than the date of the check.
- Deceptively make you pay for collect telephone calls or telegrams.
- Unless they’re legally allowed to, threaten to take or actually take property.
- Send you a postcard as a contact method.
- Falsely identify themselves.
- Send non-official information to you such that it appears official.
- Unless your state allows collection agencies to collect any amount greater than your debt, they may not do so.
If you owe multiple debts, any force payments must to the debt you indicate. A collection agency can’t make you pay a debt you don’t acknowledge.
If you feel a collection agency has violated any of the provisions in this Act, you have the right to sue the agency in state and Federal courts. If you win, you may recover $1,000 plus damages plus attorney fees and court costs. Groups of debtors can sue for up to $500,000 or one percent of the agency’s net worth, whichever is less.
If you feel a collection agency has violated this act, report it to your state attorney general’s office. You may also report it to the Federal Trade Commission, but the state may have its own specific laws better handled by the attorney general.