Americans have a love-hate relationship with debt. Each day, every American relies on some form of debt to make life easier. When you charge groceries to your credit card you are using debt, promising to pay that fee to a credit company at a later date in exchange for their payment to your grocer today. Your mortgage payment and auto-loan payments service debt you used to make those purchases.
However, for many Americans debt is spiraling out of control. The numbers are staggering at times. According to The Motley Fool, Americans have a total of $882.12 billion in debt as of November 2014. CBSNews noted back in March that credit card debt in America had reached $57.1 billion, and USAToday found that one-third of Americans are delinquent on debt. With so many Americans in debt, the number of debt collection phone calls are on the rise.
Debt collection phone calls are, for some people, little more than an annoyance. There are cases in the news on a weekly basis of debt collectors calling the wrong person (either wrong number or similar name) and trying to convince them they are delinquent on debt. For others though, the debt situation is very real, and the phone calls are extremely stressful.
When you have debt, life is stressful enough as you worry about making mortgage payments, auto payments, and keeping food on the table without the fear of debt collection calls. The longer you go without tackling your debt, the more stressful those phone calls become. If you’ve noticed an uptick in the number and type of calls from debt collectors, you might be wondering what type of boundaries exist for debt collectors.
Understanding Federal Legislation
The United States government has passed a number of consumer protection laws that deal with debt, debt collection, and fair lending practices. When it comes to harassing, incessant, or otherwise annoying and abusive phone calls from debt collectors, the most important law for you to be aware of is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
In simple terms, the FDCPA limits the tactics that bill collectors can use when attempting to contact you and collect debts. In general, the law applies only to debt collection agencies and not to original creditors attempting to collect their own debt. For example, if you have overdue medical bills that your healthcare provider has sent to a third-party collection agency, the FDCPA outlines acceptable behaviors of the third-party agency and its collection attempts, but not those of the healthcare provider.
In an effort to protect you and other consumers from harassing phone calls and other communications, the FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from making certain types of communication, communicating with certain people, and calling during specific periods of time.
Debt Collectors Calling Family & Relatives
A common tactic of debt collectors is to call your parents, siblings, or other relatives in an effort to pressure you into paying your debts on the collection agencies terms, whether you’re ready and able to do so or not. There is a very thin line between acceptable phone calls and unacceptable phone calls to your family and relatives.
Under the FDCPA, a debt collector is allowed to contact your family and relatives. However, they are not permitted to do so more than once unless you personally request that they contact those individuals again. Also, a debt collector is not allowed to leave any messages with your parents, siblings, or in-laws to call the collection agency back.
Also, the FDCPA specifically states that debt collectors may not reveal your debt to your family or relatives on the phone. While they are permitted that one contact, the topic of the call must revolve around attempting to locate and speak to you as the consumer with debt. Debt collectors often blur this line however by revealing that you “owe money” or “have debt.” While the FDCPA prevents debt collectors from revealing specific types of debt (credit cards, medical bills, student loans, etc.) or dollar amounts, it doesn’t specify that the aforementioned vague phrases are illegal.
Debt Collectors Calling My Work/Place of Employment
Here again, you’ll find that the FDCPA largely protects you from harassment in the workplace, but does leave gaps that debt collectors have exploited to put additional pressure on consumers to pay back debts. As with your family and relatives, debt collectors may not contact your employer (as a third party) to reveal the type of debt you have or the specific amount.
However, debt collectors are permitted to contact your employer to:
- Verify your employment
- Ask for a physical mailing address
- Ask for a telephone number to contact you
Again though, debt collectors may blur the lines by informing your employer or a co-worker in Human Resources that you owe money or have a debt, and that those financial issues are the reason for the call.
Debt Collectors Calling Cell Phone
The mobile nature of your cell phone means that anyone calling you at any given time of day, be it your parents, friends, or a debt collector, has no idea where you are at that point in time. Under the FDCPA, debt collectors are not allowed to communicate with you about your consumer debt at “an unusual time or place.”
Because a debt collector has no way of knowing if you are in church, at work, or attending an industry convention, it is (generally speaking) illegal to contact you on your cell phone. The collector has no idea if you are at work when they dial your mobile number. Should you happen to be at work, they would not only be in violation of contacting you at an unusual place, they would be in violation of the FDCPA’s regulations on calls to you at work.
Be aware that some debt collectors will still call your mobile phone regardless of knowing your whereabouts. Many of them get around the stipulations by concealing their full identity for a moment to ask if it is a convenient time to talk.
Debt Collectors Calling on Sunday
The FDCPA establishes appropriate timeframes during which debt collectors are permitted to call and not allowed to call. While Sunday is not directly set aside as a prohibited calling day, it is illegal under the FDCPA for a debt collector to contact you on a Sunday if its known to be an inconvenient day for you to receive phone calls.
The problem is that this terminology leaves Sunday in a bit of a gray area. Few people would consider Sunday a convenient time to receive this type of phone call, but collectors are only told to avoid calling at times or on days that it knows, or “should know,” are inconvenient. If you receive a Sunday phone call, you can put an end to them by informing the collector it is an inconvenient time. Note the name of the agency and date if this occurs, because you can sue under the FDCPA if that same agency contacts you again.
Review of Debt Collector Calls
As you’ve learned from reading the sections above, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) offers you a lot of protection against debt collector calls, but has some gaps that can be exploited. The key to protecting yourself against these harassing and abusive behaviors is education. Understand when, where, and under what circumstances you, your relatives, and your employer can receive calls from debt collectors, and you’ll be better situated to fight back in the event of illegal behavior.
If you believe you’ve been the victim of consistent, illegal behavior on the part of debt collection agencies, contact a legal expert at Fair Debt Lawyers. Each of our team members are well versed in the FDCPA, and can clearly advise you on any potential violations of the FDCPA, and help you put together and file a lawsuit against the debt collector in question.