When it comes to least liked people, debt collectors are way up there with lawyers and telemarketers that call in the middle of the night. You may need a lawyer some time so it’s not always wise to antagonize them. Telemarketers? It’s fairly easy to tell them to bugger off. But debt collectors? You know you have debts to pay. So you’re always walking a fine line with them. That’s why you’re often left feeling helpless when they start calling and sending you their demand letters.
Being contacted by a debt collector is no picnic. Often, it can be intimidating, too. But having debts doesn’t mean not having rights anymore. There is something called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act or the FDCPA. It pretty much lays down what a debt collector cannot do. It doesn’t matter if they’re seeking payment, the following actions are strictly forbidden!
1. Debt collectors CANNOT call anytime, anywhere.
There’s a window when it’s acceptable to call people. That’s between 8am and 9pm. A person in debt may allow for him to be contacted outside of these hours, but unless he says so, debt collectors cannot call. In addition to that, if a person in debt requests not to be contacted at his workplace, whether it was asked orally or in writing, then the debt collector cannot call him there at all.
2. Debt collectors CANNOT keep calling when they’ve already been told to stop.
If told in writing by the person in debt that he doesn’t wish to be contacted, the debt collector must seize calling. The only time that he is allowed to get in touch with the person in debt is to confirm if they will no longer be making contact or to notify of any action being undertaken, like a lawsuit. If the person hires an attorney to represent him in debt negotiations, the debt collector must then contact the attorney only, never the person who owes the debt.
Of course, it must be said that talking to a debt collector is still advised so the issue can be resolved more quickly.
3. Debt collectors CANNOT discuss the debt with other people.
It doesn’t matter if the “other people” are relatives, friends or work colleagues, a debt collector can’t ever discuss another person’s debt with them. Many use this tactic to embarrass the person into paying his debts but this isn’t allowed by the FDCPA.
The only time a debt collector can talk to a 3rd party is if he’s trying to get contact information like address, phone number or place of employment of the person with the debt.
Discussions are allowed, however, if the 3rd party is a spouse or the person’s attorney.
4. Debt collectors CANNOT harass the person owing money.
Harassment could include threats of violence, publishing or threatening to publish the name of the person with the debt, insults and obscenities and repeatedly calling the person about his debt over a short period of time. These are all acts prohibited by the FDCPA and that debt collectors cannot ever do.
5. Debt collectors CANNOT lie or make misleading and false statements.
Even when it comes to collecting debt, and maybe especially when it comes to debt collection, collectors are required to be honest at all times. Debt collectors, therefore, can’t ever claim to be lawyers, working for government agencies or calling in behalf of a credit reporting agency. They can’t tell the person who owes the debt that he has committed a crime.
6. Debt collectors CANNOT threaten action they can’t or won’t take.
Debt collectors are not allowed to threaten to garnish wages, cause job loss or ruin your credit if he has no intention of taking action or when he cannot take that action to begin with. They also cannot threaten legal action unless they actually plan to do so.
When it comes to this rule, lies aren’t limited to what’s said orally. Letters made to look like they came from government agencies are also illegal.
7. Debt collectors CANNOT unfairly force payments.
Unfair practices leading debt collectors to pressure a person to pay his debts is prohibited by the FDCPA. These practices include depositing post-dated checks early or sending postcards to embarrass the person into paying his debt. Collecting interest and fees beyond what’s owed and threatening repossession cannot be done, either, unless state laws actually allow for it.
8. Debt collectors CANNOT choose which debt gets paid first.
It doesn’t matter how much is owed to a specific company. If the person with the debt chooses to pay one debt over another, then it’s perfectly within his rights to do so. The debt collector cannot do anything but respect his decision. The same is true if the person doesn’t believe he owes money on a specific debt, the debt collector cannot apply the payment to that debt at all.
As you can see, owing a lot of money might not be the best, but that doesn’t mean you have to feel powerless when dealing with collectors. There are laws to make sure you are still treated fairly.