How the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) Protects Debtors
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is a federal law that controls the actions of collection agencies toward debtors. Many of these rules affect not only the statements that agencies make during the collections process but also the ways in which they interact with the debtor or third parties. You should be aware of your rights under the FDCPA so that you can hold a collector accountable for violating them. For example, you may be able to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), sue the collector for damages, or use its violation as a bargaining tool in negotiations. (The FDCPA does not apply to creditors but only to collection agencies, although state laws may protect debtors against creditors as well.)
Communications With the Debtor
A collector must inform the debtor that they are attempting to collect a debt and that any information that the debtor provides may be used to collect the debt. Throughout any interactions that follow, the individual representative of the collection agency must provide their name to the debtor, as well as the name of the agency. The collector cannot contact a debtor directly if it knows or should know that they have an attorney, and it cannot contact a debtor at work if it knows that their employer does not allow these calls. Moreover, the collector cannot call the debtor very late at night or in another inconvenient manner.
Communications With Third Parties
A collector generally cannot discuss your debt with third parties, except for the original creditor and a credit reporting agency. If a debtor retains an attorney and tells the collector about the attorney, the collector must direct all communications to the attorney rather than the individual debtor. (It can resume contacting the debtor if the attorney fails to respond or if the debtor gives it permission to contact them.) A spouse of an adult debtor and a parent of a debtor who is a minor may receive communications from a collector unless it has been notified to stop contacting them.
If the collector cannot find the debtor, it does have the right to contact third parties for this specific purpose. It must follow strict requirements when taking this step, such as avoiding any reference to the debt and refraining from contacting any third party more than once.
Contents of Communications
A collector cannot harass or abuse a debtor, using violence, threats, or obscene language toward the debtor or any other person. It also cannot call you repeatedly or threaten to tell the general public that you do not pay your bills. A collector cannot put information on the outside of an envelope that suggests that its contents involve collecting a debt.
Moreover, a collector cannot lie to or mislead the debtor. It cannot threaten to take an action that is unlawful, threaten to send a debtor to prison, tell a debtor that they have committed a crime, falsify a debtor’s credit information, or pose as a credit bureau, an attorney, or a government agency. A collector also cannot misrepresent the amount of the debt or give a collection document the appearance of coming from a court or an attorney.
The FDCPA prohibits a collector from using unfair business practices. It cannot tack on extra fees or interest to a debt if the original agreement or the state does not provide for these charges. If it does not plan to seize assets or income, it cannot threaten the debtor that it will seize them. A collector cannot trick a debtor into committing a crime by soliciting a postdated check and then depositing the check prior to its date. These are just some examples of what a collector cannot do, and you should consult an attorney if you feel that a collector may be engaging in unethical or illegal practices.