The FDCPA Applies to your Conversations with Debt Collector UNLESS
I’m sure you know not to trust anything a debt collector says, right? Until you get it in writing, it might as well not exist at all. And you know that one of the main purposes of debt collectors calling you is to gather information that they intend to use to hurt you, right?
But you probably think you have some protections under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act the FDCPA. And for the most part, you’re right. When it applies, the FDCPA makes it illegal for a debt collector to lie or attempt to deceive you. Now, judges can have widely different views of what constitutes “unfair” or “deceptive,” and there’s rarely a good reason for you to call a debt collector, but if you feel you must…
You should know that if you initiate contact with the debt collector, the FDCPA will not apply.
What’s “Initiating Contact?”
As with many things in the law, it isn’t always what things mean. The way you find out for sure is by having your judge rule for or against you at trial. For most people, that’s way too late! Our solution to that is extreme caution – to the point of never contacting them at all. Of course, we don’t think you should talk to them if they call you, either, 99% of the time. Still, if you think it might make some sense to contact them, here are some of our best guesses.
- Calling a debt collector after noticing that it is reporting you on your credit report is almost certainly “initiating” contact, and the FDCPA will not apply to your conversation. That means the debt collector can lie and deceive you all she wants.
- Talking to a debt collector in response to a phone call that the debt collector made to you – i.e., that you picked up, answered, and spoke – is clearly a contact initiated by the debt collector.
- Returning a phone call in response to a message left by a debt collector a short time before is probably NOT initiating contact with them, but
- “Returning” a phone call because you spot the caller ID and hit “call-back” is in a gray area and MIGHT be initiating contact. I would lean that way myself. Calling caller-ID numbers is probably not safe in terms of having the FDCPA apply to your conversation.
- Returning a call a long time after a debt collector left you a message MIGHT be initiating contact. Depending on how long, I would consider this risky.
Talking to Debt Collectors
In our opinion, it’s rarely a good idea to talk to a debt collector. Under the best of circumstances, you’re letting the debt collector know it has a way to contact you. And in most cases debt collectors are trying to wear down your resistance or gain information from you that will make collecting your money (after a lawsuit) easier for them to do. Therefore, we suggest only talking to a debt collector in that very rare situation where you actually have a plan and want something from them. Then, get what you want and get off the phone.