The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (more commonly called the FDCPA) is a federal law that protects consumers from harassment, abuse, and other predatory practices by debt collectors.
The FDCPA protects consumers in several ways.
- Debt collectors must tell the truth.
Debt collectors cannot do or say anything false, deceptive or misleading to collect a debt. This means they cannot misrepresent the amount of the alleged debt, whether the debt is past the statute of limitations, or the legal implications of not paying the debt. Debt collectors also cannot pretend to be a law enforcement officer or use a name that is not their own.
- Debt collectors cannot act unfairly.
More than just prohibiting debt collectors from being untruthful, the FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from acting unfairly. Debt collectors cannot collect more than you own on a debt, cannot solicit postdated checks, cannot threaten to deposit or deposit a postdated check you may have provided before the intended date, and cannot threaten to take property or file a lawsuit when they do not have the right to do so (for example, if the alleged debt is past the statute of limitations).
- Debt collectors cannot abuse or harass you.
Debt collectors cannot use profane or abusive language when speaking with you about your debt. Debt collectors cannot threaten violence against you or call repeatedly in an attempt to annoy or harass you. Additionally, when you speak to a debt collector, he or she cannot refuse to identify him or herself, by name and by the name of the company for which he or she works, and must also inform you that he or she is a debt collector. Debt collectors also cannot tell others about your debt. This includes family members or your employer.
- Debt collectors have to validate your alleged debt.
If a debt collector contacts you, they need to prove that you owe the debt they are attempting to collect. One important requirement of the FDCPA is that a debt collector must send you a letter within 5 days of their first communication with you. That letter must provide the following information:
- How much they claim you owe;
- The name of the creditor seeking payment;
- A statement that unless you dispute the debt within 30 days, the debt collector will assume the debt to be valid;
- A statement that if you notify the debt collector in writing, within 30 days, that you dispute the debt, the debt collector will obtain verification of the debt and mail that to you; and
- A statement that upon your written request, again within 30 days, the debt collector will provide you with the name and address of the original creditor, if it is different from the current creditor.
- You have control over your communications with debt collectors.
You can set rules about how and when debt collectors can contact you. Firstly, debt collectors cannot contact you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. If you ask a debt collector not to call you at work, he or she must not do so. If you are represented by an attorney and you or your attorney have informed the debt collector of that representation, the debt collector cannot continue to contact you directly. Finally, debt collectors must stop calling if you ask them to do so. You are within your rights to request that all contact be in writing. You should make this request in writing.
If a debt collector violates the FDCPA, you have the right to file suit to seek actual damages, as well as statutory damages of up to $1,000, plus costs and attorneys’ fees. Violations of the FDCPA happen more often than you might think.
If you have been contacted by a debt collector who has violated the FDCPA, you should contact an attorney, such as the attorneys at THOELE | DRACH, to see if you have a claim. Many attorneys, including those at THOELE | DRACH, take these types of cases at no cost to you.