There Is Such A Thing As Fair Debt Collection

If you use credit cards, owe money on a personal loan or are paying on a home mortgage, you are a debtor. If you fall behind in repaying your creditors or an error is made on your accounts, you may be contacted by a debt collector.

You should know that in either situation, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires that debt collectors treat you fairly and prohibits certain methods of debt collection. Of course, the law does not erase any legitimate debt you owe.

On this page, I answer commonly asked questions about your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. If you have more specific questions, I can help make sure the answers you get are tailored to your needs. Call my office at 585-800-9616.

What debts are covered?

The act covers personal, family and household debts. This includes money owed for the purchase of an automobile, for medical care and for charge accounts.

Who is a debt collector?

A debt collector is any person or business that regularly collects debts owed to others. This includes attorneys who collect debts on a regular basis.

How may a debt collector contact you?

A collector may contact you in person or by mail, telephone, telegram or fax. However, a debt collector may not contact you at inconvenient times or places, such as before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you agree. A debt collector also may not contact you at work if the collector knows that your employer disapproves of such contacts.

Can you stop a debt collector from contacting you?

You can stop a debt collector from contacting you by writing a letter to the collector telling it to stop. Once the collector receives your letter, that collector may not contact you again except to say there will be no further contact or to notify you that the debt collector or the creditor intends to take some specific action. Please note, however, that sending such a letter to a collector does not make the debt go away if you actually owe it. You could still be sued by the debt collector or your original creditor.

May a debt collector contact anyone else about your debt?

If you have a lawyer, the debt collector must contact that attorney, rather than you. If you do not have an attorney, a collector may contact other people to find out your phone number and where you live and work. Collectors usually are prohibited from contacting such third parties more than once. In most cases, the collector may not tell anyone other than you and your attorney that you owe money.

What must the debt collector tell you about the debt?

Within five days after you are first contacted, the collector must send you a written notice telling you the amount of money you owe, the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money and what action to take if you believe you do not owe the money.

May a debt collector continue to contact you if you believe you do not owe money?

A collector may not contact you if, within 30 days after you receive the written notice, you send the collection agency a letter stating you do not owe money. However, a collector can renew collection activities if you are sent proof of the debt, such as a copy of a bill for the amount owed.

What types of debt collection practices are prohibited?

Harassment. Debt collectors may not harass, oppress or abuse you or any third parties they contact. For example, debt collectors may not:

  • Use threats of violence or harm
  • Publish a list of consumers who refuse to pay their debts (except to a credit bureau)
  • Use obscene or profane language or repeatedly use the telephone to annoy someone

False statements. Debt collectors may not use any false or misleading statements when collecting a debt. For example, debt collectors may not:

  • Falsely imply that they are attorneys or government representatives
  • Falsely imply that you have committed a crime
  • Falsely represent that they operate or work for a credit bureau
  • Misrepresent the amount of your debt
  • Indicate that papers being sent to you are legal forms when they are not
  • Indicate that papers being sent to you are not legal forms when they are

Unfair practices. Debt collectors may not engage in unfair practices when they try to collect a debt. For example, collectors may not:

  • Collect any amount greater than your debt, unless your state law permits such a charge
  • Deposit a post-dated check prematurely
  • Use deception to make you accept collect calls or pay for telegrams
  • Take or threaten to take your property unless this can be done legally
  • Contact you by postcard

What can you do if you believe a debt collector violated the law?

You have the right to sue a collector in state or federal court within one year from the date you believe a law was violated. If you win, you may recover money for the damages you suffered plus an additional amount up to $1,000. Court costs and attorney's fees also can be recovered. A group of people also may sue a debt collector and recover money for damages up to $500,000 or 1 percent of the collector's net worth, whichever is less.

Where can you report a debt collector for an alleged violation?

Report any problems you have with a debt collector to your state attorney general's office and the Federal Trade Commission. Many states have their own debt collection laws, and your attorney general's office can help you determine your rights.

If you live in Rochester or the surrounding area, please call my office and speak with me about your legal options and how you can stop debt collectors from harassing you. You can get a free telephone consultation at 585-800-9616.

My law firm is a debt relief agency. I help people file for bankruptcy relief under the Bankruptcy Code.