The law can be complex and confusing, and consumer financial protection law is no exception. Chances are, you haven’t read the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Most people never will. But, in those thousands of sometimes technical words, there are some powerful protections that many people don’t know about.
What You Should Know About Debt Collection
- The FDCPA protects your privacy. Though debt collectors may contact your employer, friends, or family members in an attempt to locate you, they cannot reveal that the call relates to a debt. They’re not allowed to communicate with you about your debt by postcard, or even to put information on the outside of an envelope that suggests it’s a debt collection notice. Even using the business name in the return address may be a violation if the name makes it clear that it’s a debt collection company or debt buyer.
- The FDCPA provides a process for disputes and verification. Debt collector harassment is stressful even when you know that you owe the debt and are working to resolve it. It can be worse when you don’t owe the debt or the amount is wrong, but the debt collector refuses to leave you alone. Under the FDCPA, you have the right to dispute a debt, and the debt collector has to tell you about that right. If you dispute within 30 days, the debt collector has to stop collection action until the debt has been verified.
- The FDCPA prohibits deceptive acts. Under the law, debt collectors are barred from engaging in a wide variety of deceptive activities, including falsely claiming to be associated with law enforcement or another governmental entity, misrepresenting the legal status of the debt, and threatening actions they’re not legally allowed to take. This prohibition even extends to misleading actions such as sending letters that are designed and formatted to give a false impression that they are court pleadings or other official documents.
- The FDCPA strictly limits contacts with third parties. As mentioned above, a debt collector may contact a third party to try to locate you. But, obtaining location information is the only permissible purpose for such contact. A debt collector who knows how to contact you, or who has already obtained whatever information the third party has available, cannot legally continue to communicate with that person. They’re even prohibited from continuing to call you at work, if they know your employer doesn’t permit such communications at work.
- The FDCPA prohibits harassment and abuse. Some common examples of prohibited behavior include using profane or abusive language, calling repeatedly for the purpose of harassment, publishing a list of those who have allegedly defaulted on debt, advertising debt for sale as a coercive tactic, failing or refusing to identify themselves as required by law, or threatening violence or other criminal acts.
Being aware of these provisions can help you protect yourself, whether that means taking advantage of the opportunity to file a dispute letter or knowing to specifically advise a debt collector that you are not allowed to receive personal calls at work. But, that’s not the only protection the FDCPA provides. The law also provides for damages when a debt collector breaks the rules.
A consumer who suffers actual economic damages as a result of the debt collector’s violation of the FDCPA may be entitled to collect full compensation for those losses. For example, an employee who was fired because a debt collector persisted in making repeated calls to the employee at work after being advised it was against the employer’s rules could be responsible for lost wages. That’s not the only remedy, though. Even if you don’t have monetary damages, the court may award $1,000 in statutory damages.
The FDCPA also provides for attorneys’ fees. That’s good news for two reasons. First, it means you can often get legal help with an FDCPA claim without having to make any payment to your attorney out of your own pocket. Second, it means that even a case involving relatively small damages can be expensive for the debt collector who broke the law. That can give you bargaining power as you negotiate to resolve the underlying debt. This can be especially important if you’re looking to purchase a home or make another big-ticket purchase and old debt on your credit report is getting in your way.
DebtCleanse Can Help
Too often, consumers miss out on these opportunities because they don’t know the law or don’t know how to assert their rights. That’s where DebtCleanse comes in. Our affordable monthly plan connects you with an attorney who can assess your debt collection communications for violations and show you how to use those violations in the fight to protect yourself from unscrupulous debt collectors and resolve your debts.