If a creditor or debt collector uses coercion, harassment, profanity or threats to try to get someone to pay a debt, the alleged debtor has rights under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Since Congress passed this law, debt collection is no longer the wild, wild west. The FDCPA restricts the methods those in the consumer and household debt collection business can use and debtors have legal rights that protect them against unlawful actions.
This federal law protects the dignity – and legal rights – of individual debtors who face potential collection activities because they may be late on payments or have defaulted on debts. Especially in these uncertain times when the effects of the pandemic have hurt many people financially, struggling with debt is common and is no badge of dishonor. Rather, it is a problem to solve with respect and compassion.
And sometimes, a debt collector can be wrong when they say someone owes a debt – that person may have no valid debt obligation. The law applies whether the debt at issue is valid or invalid.
Because of the FDCPA, a debt collector must identify themselves accurately and clearly and must follow notice requirements and adhere to specific procedures when interacting with the debtor concerning the debt at issue.
What abusive collection actions does the law prohibit?
One area of restriction concerns collector contacts with a debtor, their family or employer. For example, a debt collector may not:
- Make threats (true or untrue) about what will happen if the debtor does not pay like prison, job or wage loss, arrest, lawsuits, severe harm to credit scores etc.
- Make contact such as through calls, texts, e-mails or letters in a harassing manner
- Use profane or abusive language
- Leave robocall or anonymous messages
- Harass the person’s family members or employer (after the creditor has found the debtor)
- Contact a debtor outside of the window from 8am to 9pm without permission
- Contact a debtor at work once they are on notice that the debtor may not accept calls there
- And more restrictions
The FDCPA also forbids certain fraudulent collection practices. Creditors and debt collectors must communicate the true amount and status of a debt and may not misrepresent themselves to be a government official or law enforcement officer. In addition, they may not provide untrue information to a credit bureau.
It is a good idea to keep a journal detailing each incident of harassment in debt collection. These details will be helpful should the matter end up in court or the subject of an agency complaint.
If a debtor does not want to be contacted by a debt collector anymore, they may tell the debt collector to cease contact – and the debt collector must honor that request. While this can be a verbal request, it is advisable to put it in writing and keep proof of delivery.
A consumer may report abusive collection practices to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). (This link goes to the debt collection FAQs on the FTC site. On the home page, the link to “Report Fraud to the FTC” goes to the online reporting form that includes a debt collection option.) The agency shares information from consumers with law enforcement agencies.
The recipient of abusive debt collection practices also may file an FDCPA lawsuit for money damages plus legal fees.
This is an introduction to a broad and detailed subject valuable to any Virginian facing abusive debt collection. If a debt collector is contacting you seeking payment of a debt, it would be a good idea to contact an attorney knowledgeable in both debt defense and consumer protection under the FDCPA.