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The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is a source of many protections against “unfair” debt collection practices. It enumerates many of these practices but leaves room for more general use of the law, too. This article discusses three specific violations as examples of what the law can do.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is a source of many protections from ruthless debt collectors for people who owe money. As I often point out, what makes the Act so powerful is that, in addition to making certain specific actions illegal, the FDCPA also more generally makes <i>any unfair, oppressive or deceptive collection practice illegal.</i> At the focus of this article, however, are three specific forms of communication designed to embarrass debtors
Debt Collectors Must Identify Themselves to You
Debt Collectors have particular rules when trying to find you to bug you for money.
Under 15 U.S.C. Section 1692b, a debt collector looking for a debtor must identify himself by name but not mention his employer unless specifically requested. He cannot state that the consumer owes any debt, and he cannot communicate more than once with any person unless requested to do so or unless the debt collector reasonably believes that the earlier response of that person was erroneous or incomplete, and the person now has correct or complete location information.
This portion of the law was obviously intended to end the practice of collectors harassing and annoying the people around the debtor for purposes of damaging relationships and creating social pressure on the debtor.
Debt Collectors Cannot Communicate at Unreasonable Hours
Collectors are not allowed to communicate with consumers <i>“at any unusual time or place”</i> or at a time or place known to be inconvenient to the consumer. Unless the debt collector actually knows that the consumer has unusual hours, he cannot call before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m., local time of the consumer. 15 U.S.C. Sec. 1692c(a).
If you are being contacted at work, therefore, you should tell the collector that this is “an inconvenient time and place” for communications. It is also specifically illegal for a collector to call at place of work if he knows or has reason to know that the employer prohibits the consumer from receiving personal communications. If you work on a late shift, you should tell the debt collector what hours are inconvenient to you. It obviously makes sense to communicate with the debt collector in writing, although the law doesn’t require it, and to make records of any communication that comes outside of the specified hours.
Debt Collectors Cannot Communicate with Third Parties Except under Limited Circumstances
Collectors are not allowed to talk to other people in connection with their collection efforts other than as specifically allowed (regarding finding you) unless you give your prior consent, or unless a court gives that permission. However, they are permitted to talk to your attorney, a consumer reporting agency, and the creditor and its attorney. The big exception involves “post-judgment judicial remedies.” If the debt collector obtains a judgment, it may seek garnishment of wages or bank accounts, and it is permitted efforts that are “reasonably necessary” to obtain these remedies. 15 U.S.C. Sec. 1692c(b).
I believe this section prevents debt collectors from harassing people who refuse to give them information about your whereabouts or to cooperate in other ways. Again, the prohibition exists to prevent the wanton damage of a consumer’s relationships with other people.
Your Right to Sue Under the FDCPA
If debt collectors are engaging in any of the above-mentioned prohibited acts, they are violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and you can either sue them for it or, if they have filed suit against you, make a counterclaim against them.