Millions of Americans are in debt, so it stands to reason that there are over 6,500 collection agencies in the U.S.. Most of these agencies operate under the law but a growing number of them do not. According to statistics from the Better Business Bureau, complaints filed against debt collectors rose 27% in 2007. Even if you legitimately owe the debt, you should know there are laws that protect you against harassment and the unfair practices often employed by these rogue debt collectors. CNN Money discusses the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and laws which protect the consumer. Details, inside…
Third-party debt collectors are regulated by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) which is overseen by the FTC. Here are few practices which are prohibited under the law:
Debt collectors cannot make threats of violence against consumers or publish lists of those who don’t pay their debt. They may contact you in person, by mail, or by fax but can only call you between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. unless you have agreed to alternate hours. They are also not allowed to use obscene language or call repeatedly (i.e. several times a day).
Debt collectors cannot misrepresent themselves. They cannot not falsely imply that they are attorneys, government agencies or that they work for a credit bureau. They cannot say that papers being sent you are legal forms if they are not, or say that they are not legal forms if they are.
Debt collectors may not collect an amount greater than your debt, unless your state law permits it. They cannot use deception to make you accept collect calls or pay for telegrams. They also cannot threaten to take your property or contact you by postcard.
Linda Sherry of Consumer Action recommends that if a debt collector contacts you, the first thing you should do is ask for proof of the debt which should consist of a paper document with your signature stating that you applied for the debt. Also, be aware that some debts have a statute of limitations which could be from 3 to 15 years. Check your state’s laws to see if your debt is still collectible because once you pay a portion of the debt the clock resets again.
You can stop a debt collector from contacting you if you submit a written request to them. Once they receive the letter, they cannot contact you again except to tell you there will be no more contact. Additionally, if you have an attorney presiding over your debt, they must contact the attorney instead of you.
Just because you are in debt, doesn’t mean that debt collectors have the right to harass you or operate outside of the law. If you feel that a debt collector has violated the law, you can file a complaint with your state’s Attorney General office and the Federal Trade Commission.