Counsel's Corner: Know your rights when dealing with debt collectors

Stopping collector harassment begins with learning what your rights are under The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Also known as the fair debt act or FDCPA; this federal law was enacted to protect us, the consumer from bill collector's abuse.The FDCPA clearly defines the rules that bill collectors and even collection attorneys must obey when collecting debts. Many states have their own laws similar to the FDCPA and some of these laws also define collection rules for creditors collecting their own debts. Here is the brief summary of the law. The FDCPA imposes certain restrictions and requirements upon a debt collector seeking location information about the consumer. Thus, a debt collector communicating with any person other than the consumer for the purpose of acquiring location information about the consumer must identify him or herself, state that he or she is confirming or correcting location information, and, only if expressly requested, identify his or her employer. The debt collector must not state that the consumer owes any debt; communicate with any person more than once unless requested to do so by such person or unless the collector reasonably believes that the earlier response is erroneous or incomplete and that the person now has correct or complete location information; communicate by postcard; or use any language or symbol on any envelope or in the contents of a communication effected by the mail or telegram that indicates that the collector is in the debt-collection business or that the communication relates to the collection of a debt. Furthermore, a debt collector from collection agencies cannot do any of the following: •Call you repeatedly or contact you at an unreasonable time (the law presumes that before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. is unreasonable). •Place telephone calls to you without identifying themselves as bill collectors. •Contact you at work if your employer prohibits it. •Use obscene language. •Use or threaten to use violence. •Claim you owe more than you do. •Claim to be an attorney if they're not. •Claim that you'll be imprisoned or your property will be seized. •Send you papers that resemble a legal document. •Add unauthorized interest, fees, or charges. •Contact third parties, other than your attorney, a credit reporting bureau, or the original creditor, except for the limited purpose of finding information about your whereabouts. If a debt collector violates any of the above, you can ask them to stop. Under the FDCPA, you have the right to tell a collection agency employee to stop contacting you. Simply send a letter stating that you want the collection agency to cease all communications with you. All agency employees are then prohibited from contacting you, except to tell you that collection efforts have ended or that the collection agency or original creditor intends to sue you or take advantage of some other legal remedy. And unless you have asked collectors in writing to stop contacting you, they can also contact your spouse, your parents (if you are a minor), and your co-debtors. If a debt collector continues to violate your rights, document the violation as soon as it happens. Start a log and write down what happened, when it happened, and who witnessed it. Then, try to have another person present (or on the phone) during all future communications with the collector. Then file an official complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Contact the Federal Trade Commission at 6th and Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20580 or on their website at The best overall advice is not to ignore the debt or try and hide from the debt collector. Usually, the longer you put off resolving the issue, the worse the situation and the consequences will become. Whether you negotiate directly with the collector or obtain a lawyer's assistance, many counselors feel the best strategy almost always is to speak to the collector. Chances are there is room for negotiations and payment plans. So the next time someone calls to collect a debt, remember you have rights under the FDCPA and hold the bill collector to the letter of the law. The purpose of this column is to provide general information on the law, which is subject to change. It is not legal advice. Consult a lawyer if you have a specific legal problem.

********** Published: September 18, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 22