Debt Collectors and Your Rights.
Knowing your rights when it comes to debt collectors can save you embarrassment, aggravation, additional stress, and even sleep! Here is some information we feel you should know!
How Creditors Track You Down: This area of the law is formally called "Acquisition of Location Information." It basically limits what they can do legally to find you. For instance, they:
The Way Debt Collectors Communicate About You:
- Cannot tell third parties, such as your boss or neighbors, that they're trying to reach you about a debt.
- Shall only say to others that they're trying to confirm or correct your location (and not mention your debt).
- Must not communicate with anyone else (like your supervisor) more than once, unless they believe the location information given was erroneous or incomplete.
- Are not allowed to mail you any notices via postcard, either at home or at your place of employment.
- Cannot use any kind of mailing, envelope, or other communication that would tell someone else that the company is a debt collection agency.
- Are prohibited from contacting you once you notify them in writing that you are represented by an attorney and have given them the attorney's name and address.
This area of the law prevents collection agencies from hounding you or trying to embarrass you by telling others your personal business. The law states that they:
- Cannot communicate with you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. (your local time) unless you give them permission or they have a court order to do so.
- Cannot contact you if you have notified them that a lawyer is representing you.
- Cannot call you on the job if you tell them that your employer prohibits you from receiving such calls.
- Cannot talk about your situation with anyone; not your friends, relatives, neighbors or coworkers. The only ones they can discuss your debts with are your attorney, the original creditor and credit-reporting agencies.
Legal Action By Debt Collectors: Federal law limits where debt collectors can bring legal proceedings against consumers that owe money. In general, any debt collector initiating legal action shall:
- Bring legal action against real property only in a judicial district or similar legal entity where the property is located.
- Barring the above provision, debt collectors can bring action in judicial district where the consumer signed the contract or where he/she currently lives.
Civil Liability: When debt collectors break the law, they can be sued for failing to abide by federal rules and forced to pay:
- The actual damages sustained.
- Additional damages up to $1,000 (for an individual).
- The lesser of $500,000 or 1% of the debt collector's net worth (in the case of a class action lawsuit).
False or Misleading Representations: Collection agencies are prohibited from making false or misleading representations to consumers in the course of trying to secure debt repayment. Some violations of the-law in this area include:
- Falsely stating or implying that the debt collector is bonded by, or associated with any federal or state government entity.
- Falsely representing the nature of any debt, the amount owed, the legal status of the account, or compensation paid to the collection agency for recovering the debt.
- Falsely claiming that the debt collector is an attorney or
represents an attorney.
- Falsely asserting that you will be imprisoned or arrested if you don't pay your bills (debtors' prisons don't exist anymore in this country).
- Falsely representing that your failure to pay could result in your wages being garnished, your property being seized, or your assets being sold - unless such measures are lawful, and unless the debt collector actually intends to take those actions.
- Falsely stating such misinformation such as the documents they send to you represent a legal process or that the debt collector works for a credit bureau.
Harrassment: No debt collector is legally allowed to harass, abuse or oppress you – under any circumstances whatsoever! Any of these following tactics are violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act:
- The use of violence, or the threat of it, or any criminal action that would hurt a person's body, property or reputation.
Obscene or profane language (verbal or written).
- Publishing any lists (except to a credit bureau) that shows consumers who refused to pay a debt.
- Threatening or actually posting the debt for sale to another party in order to compel repayment.
- Constantly calling an individual on the telephone or engaging a consumer in repeated conversations with the intention to annoy, abuse or harass someone.
Furnishing Certain Deceptive Forms: Debt collection agencies are prohibited from supplying you with misleading or deceptive forms in a bid to make you pay your debts. The Fair Debt Collections Reporting Act states that it is unlawful for them to design compile or furnish any form knowing that such a form would create a false belief or a false impression that anyone other than the debt collection agency is participating in the collection activity (for example, debt collectors cannot falsely claim lawyers or government agencies are involved)
Unfair Practices: No debt collector can use dishonest or unfair means of making you pay your debts to them. The following actions are deemed to be violations of the law by these debt collectors:
- Collecting any money at all - such as interest, late fees, or any charges other than the principal amount - unless it is specifically permitted by law and/or authorized by the agreement that created the debt.
- Taking post-dated checks from you that are more than five days away, unless the debt collector informs you no more than 10 or less than three business days before depositing the cheek.
- Soliciting postdated checks for the purpose of threatening or instituting criminal prosecution.
- Depositing or threatening to deposit any postdated checks that you have sent them before the date of such check.
- Making collect calls to consumers, or doing anything that would cause debtors to incur charges for communication by debt collectors that are trying to conceal the purpose of their contact.
Validation of Debts: As a consumer, you have the right to verify, validate or dispute any debt you are told about by the agency, within a given time frame. Within five days of initially contacting you, a debt collection agency must:
- Send you a written notice containing the amount of the debt, the name of the credit, a statement informing you of your right to dispute it within 30 days, and a statement indicating that if you contest any portion of the debt, the debt collector will obtain verification of the debt and mail it to you.
- Supply you with the name and address of the original creditor if it is different from the current creditor (if you happen to ask for this info in writing).
- Cease collection attempts during the "verification of debt" period, if you dispute the debt or ask for the name and address of the original creditor.
Multiple Debts: The law protects your repayment rights when you owe multiple debts to creditors. In this case, debt collectors: