If you’ve ever been the target of the unfair collection practices of a debt collector, you no doubt felt helpless and confused. Fortunately, in the United States there are legal protections in place to prevent the continued, harassing behavior of debt collectors and other creditors. Chief among those laws is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Approved on September 20, 1977, the FDCPA is a consumer protection amendment that established legal protection for those facing abusive debt collection behaviors.
Overview of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
The FDCPA was officially enacted by Congress in 1978 under 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. With passage of the act, average Americans no longer had to live in fear of abusive behavior and harassment from debt collectors. The FDCPA is listed under Title VIII of the Consumer Credit Protection Act, and its stated purpose is:
Simply put, the FDCPA exists to ensure that you aren’t forced or otherwise coerced to pay debt (whether actual or inaccurately reported) until you have had the chance to end that harassment and verify the accuracy of your financial standing.
Who does the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act Apply To?
In order to protect you from debt collection harassment, the FDCPA adopted a broad definition of a debt collector as “any person using the instrumentality of interstate commerce or the mail in any business the principal purpose of which is the collection of debts, or who regularly collects or attempts to collect, directly or indirectly, debts owed or due.” That’s a very long, broad definition that really boils down to individuals representing a creditor or debt collection agency.
However, with that said there are those the FDCPA is more harshly (rightly so) applied to when it comes to debt collection practices. Original creditors, such as the company directly responsible for issuing you credit, are not often held to the same standards. It is third-party debt collectors that are held in strict compliance under the FDCPA.
These groups often obtain information on your debt and make harassing phone calls, use abusive language, or try to coerce you into making payments to them. In many cases, these payments are greater than your debt and do not go entirely to paying off your debt, but rather are held as service fees by the debt collection agency.
A very important note regarding the FDCPA is its definition of a consumer. In order to enjoy the protection of the statute, debt can only be the result of a personal, family, or household act. Business debts are not protected under the FDCPA.
What Type of Conduct is Prohibited Under the FDCPA?
There are, unfortunately, a number of deceitful practices that debt collection agencies will use to try and force you into paying your debt. The most common tactic involves phone calls. If you have debt, you have no doubt faced the unending tide of phone calls from creditors and debt collectors reminding you of your debt, informing you of the consequences, or asking you to establish an automatic payment plan to settle your debts.
One of the primary goals of the FDCPA was to establish a set of guidelines defining acceptable and unacceptable practices when collecting debt. Under the FDCPA, the broad terms “abusive and deceptive” conduct are used to define a number of actions that are prohibited. Among the actions that debt collectors may not take are the following:
- House for Phone Contact: no phone calls are allowed outside of the hours of 8:00 AM to 9:00 PM local time.
- Excessive Phone Contact: debt collectors are not permitted to call continuously with the goal of annoying, abusing, or harassing the individual(s) at that number.
- Abusive or profane language.
- Threatening to take legal actions or have a consumer arrested.
- Calling you at your place of employment.
- Publishing your name on social media, websites, or other “bad debt” lists.
- Misrepresenting the debt owed or the agency seeking it, for example, a collector cannot claim to represent law enforcement or an attorney.
- Seek exorbitant amounts of money.
- Communicate with third parties: debt collectors may not tell your family, friends, co-workers, or neighbors about your debt. One caveat here is that your spouse or lawyer can be contacted.
- Report false information to consumer credit reporting companies.
What Action Can You Take?
In addition to laying the groundwork for acceptable and unacceptable behavior, the FDCPA also provides actionable information for consumers who have been targeted by harassing behavior. If you have received multiple phone calls and want to bring an end to harassment, you have the right to submit a written letter requesting that all forms of communication regarding your debt cease.
If the debt collector continues to contact you after 30 days of receipt of your written request, you can report them to the Federal Trade Commission and hire an attorney to help you fight back against continuous harassment. In the case of third-party debt collectors, you can instruct your attorney to file a private lawsuit against the debt collection agency for damages (including actual, statutory, attorney’s fees, and court costs).
As a strict liability law, you can do not need to prove actual damages from the harassing behavior to collect as much as $1,000 in damages, as well as reasonable attorney fees from the debt collector if the agency has violated the guidelines of the FDCPA.
How to Recognize Legitimate Debt Collection Behavior
In a sea of negative information about debt collectors, it is important to realize that the FDCPA does not protect you against the valid, non-abusive collection efforts of an original creditor. If you’ve recently received a call from a collector, you can establish the validity of that individual by making yourself knowledgeable about the required conduct of collectors under the FDCPA:
- Collectors must identify themselves immediately and inform you, as the consumer, what the communication is about.
- If you submit a written request, the agency has 30 days to provide you accurate information about the original creditor, including the name and address of that entity.
- Within five days of first contact, a debt collection agency must notify you of your right to dispute the debt in question.
- If you submit a written request for verification of your debt, the collection agency must provide that information within 30 days.
- A debt collector can file a lawsuit in the proper venue (where you lived or signed a loan contract), but that doesn’t prevent you from filing a countersuit if their collection behavior becomes aggressive or abusive.
A Complex Law
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is a complex law that contains a lot of legal vocabulary that is confusing for some to understand clearly and effectively use in their favor. If you believe you’ve been the subject of debt collection harassment and want to see if your rights have been violated under the FDCPA, feel free to contact the lawyers at Fair Debt Lawyers. We know the FDCPA inside and out, and we can fight to end the debt collection harassment and straighten out any inaccuracies that may have led to this aggressive behavior.