The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) exists to protect consumers from third-party debt collectors using overly aggressive, harassing, threatening, and dishonest tactics.
Calling in the middle of the night, bothering debtors with a barrage of calls, calling debtors at work, using abusive language, trying to con debtors out of extra money, lying about being law enforcement or attorneys—these are just some of the practices the FDCPA was created to prevent, and sadly they are still some of the behaviors most closely associated with debt collectors today.
What does the FDCPA say?
Under the FDCPA, anyone trying to collect a debt on behalf of another party has to abide by certain behaviors, such as:
- Debt collectors have to tell you in every communication that they are attempting to collect a debt.
- They have to send you a notice within five days of first contacting you informing you that you have a right to dispute the debt.
- They must provide verification of the debt if you send in a written request within 30 days of receiving the notice above.
- They can only call you within the hours of 8AM-9PM local time.
- They must stop contacting you if you request it in writing. (There are some exceptions, such as if they contact you to tell you they are going to stop trying to collect the debt, or to let you know they are filing a lawsuit.)
- If you request that they direct all communication to your attorney, they must do so.
Just as importantly, there are certain things the FDCPA says debt collectors cannot do. For example:
- Calling you repeatedly just to annoy you.
- Trying to collect money from you beyond what you actually owe (inflating your balance owed is a common scam tactic called “overbiffing).
- Using abusive or profane language.
- Threatening you with physical harm.
- Threatening to have you arrested.
- Trying to humiliate you into paying with by doing things like leaving a post card on your doorstep that says they’re trying to collect a debt in big, red letters.
- Bother your neighbors or coworkers and tell them you owe a debt. (They can contact a neighbor to ask about your location, but they can’t wake the whole block.)
- Reporting false information on your credit report.
- Lying about being attorneys, law enforcement, or government officials
- Lying about legal action that will be taken against you.
Shady debt collectors use these kinds of tactics all the time, believing they can trick, harass, or intimidate you into paying. Knowing what’s legal and what isn’t is the first step toward making it stop.
Who is covered by the FDCPA?
The FDCPA only covers household consumer debts, not business debts. So your mortgage, auto loan, medical bills, student loans, credit card bills, the payday loan you took out to help make ends meet, and any other personal loans are covered. However, if you own a company and took out a loan to finance your business that you are now having difficulty repaying, that would not be covered.
The FDCPA also only applies to third-party debt collectors; in other words, people trying to collect a debt on behalf of someone else. If your bank gives you a loan and then tries to collect on that debt, the FDCPA would not apply to them because they originated the loan (although they would still be subject to other federal and state laws). But as soon as the bank hands off the work of collecting your debt to a collection agency, the FDCPA comes into play.
What to do about a FDCPA violation
When a debt collector calls you at work, or calls your boss, or claims to be the police in order to intimidate you into paying a debt, or even just contacts you after you’ve written to them telling them to stop, these are all violations of the FDCPA.
The first step when you notice a violation like this is always to make a record of it. Write down the date, time, and phone number of a harassing phone call. Make a copy of any written communication. If you speak to a debt collector, take notes on what they said. The more information you record, the stronger your case will be if things ever end up in court.
The DebtCleanse online platform is a convenient place to log all communications you receive from creditors and debt collectors.
You can also take a debt collector to court over a FDCPA violation as long as it’s within one year of when the violation occurred. You may be able to sue for damages, but even if not, if the debt collector is found to have violated the FDCPA, they will have to pay you up to $1,000 plus attorney’s fees and court costs. Just be aware that even if you successfully sue a debt collector over a FDCPA violation, they can still try to collect the debt.
That’s why DebtCleanse advises carefully looking over every document from your original lender and debt collector to look for additional deficiencies before taking action. FDCPA violations are a form of creditor deficiency, and the more deficiencies you find, the more leverage you have to dispute your debt, force your creditor to settle your debt for pennies on the dollar, or possibly get your debt forgiven altogether. Capitalizing on deficiencies like these is the heart of the DebtCleanse system.
Finding creditor deficiencies can be tricky work, but if you’re stuck with a debt you can’t pay and a debt collector is making your life miserable, it’s worth putting in the effort to fight back. And you don’t have to do it alone. DebtCleanse premium members get exclusive access to our nationwide network of attorneys to help you break free from the cycle of debt, plus discounts on legal services.
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