Have you had a run-in with a debt collector? If so, you’re not alone, as the Urban Institute study recently revealed that an estimated 1 in 3 adults, or 77 million Americans, are so delinquent paying a debt that it’s gone to collections. If you’re one of those people then you’ve also probably learned that debt collectors can be aggressive, relentless, sneaky, rude, deceptive, or even resort to downright harassment to collect money. That’s especially true of third party debt collectors, companies who buy delinquent debt for pennies on the dollar or get paid a percentage of what they collect.
Lucky for us, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and other laws were enacted to regulate debt collectors and protect the public. While there is always fine print and conditions that qualify legal debt collection practices, here are ten things that debt collectors definitely cannot do:
1. A debt collector cannot harass you in any way, including:
Use abuse or threatening language.
Use obscene language.
Make negative comments about your character.
Make slurs based on nationality, religious, or ethnic slurs.
Make unfounded criminal allegations.
2. A debt collector can contact you by phone, but they CANNOT:
Call you before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m. unless you’ve agreed.
Call you repeatedly or so often that it becomes harassment.
Try to trick you into accepting collect calls or paying for telegrams.
Call or contact you at your place of employment if the debt collector is aware that such calls are not allowed.
Call you or another party if you’ve hired an attorney to represent you.
Call you if you’ve officially submitted a letter requesting they don’t call you.
3. Debt collectors also cannot engage in false statements and deceptive practices, like:
Falsely claiming to be an attorney, government agency, or bank or creditor employee if they are not.
Send you paperwork that’s imitates legal paperwork just to trick you.
Say that documents or correspondence are not legal documents if in fact they are.
Intimate that you’ve committed a crime.
4. While a debt collector can file a lawsuit I an attempts to recover the money they’re owed, they cannot:
Intimidate or threaten you with a lawsuit just to try and get you to pay a debt.
Pretend there is an impending lawsuit if there isn’t.
Claim they will seize your property or garnish your wages if they have no legal right to do that.
Talk about suing you if they don’t intend to do so.
Make false statements about the amount of money you owe.
Threaten to have you arrested if you don’t pay the debt.
Threaten to you with violence or threaten to harass any of your family or friends.
5. If a debt collector already has your name and telephone number to contact you directly, they cannot:
Contact other family members about your debt.
Contact minors in your household or your neighbors.
Discuss the details of your debt or accounts with anyone other than just trying to locate you.
Fail to identify themselves by name (but identifying themselves as debt collector isn’t required).
Fail to identify they name of their collection agency if asked.
Contact a third party more than once unless the collection agency has reason to believe they have new information about your whereabouts.
Leave any information about a debt on a third party’s answering machine or voice mail.
6. Debt collectors are prohibited from trying to publically “shame” you into paying. That means they cannot:
Exchange information about debtors with other parties or agencies.
Distribute lists of debtors to creditors.
Compile lists of debts for sale to advertise debts for sale
Ask third parties to have you call the collector.
Discuss your debt with anyone other than 1) the debtor, 2) the creditor, 3) a credit bureau, and 4) an attorney representing one of these parties.
7. When it comes to auto-dial or prerecorded debt collector telephone calls to debtors, there are some very specific rules laid out by the FCC as it interprets the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA):
Collection agencies cannot go above and beyond the scope of “informational calls” as it comes to telemarketing if it goes to a landline.
But a debt collector cannot call your cell phone with prerecorded or automated calls without prior written consent.
Cannot do the same with automated text messages.
Debt collectors may contact your employer, but on a limited basis and with rules and provisions. But a collector cannot:
Contact your employer other than to find out where you live or your telephone number.
Threaten, share information about the debt, or disrupt the employer’s business in any way.
In some states, there are additional laws to protect consumers. In California, for example, a collection agency must first try to contact your employer in writing before making a call. If your employer does not respond within 15 days, the collection agency may then call.
8. In California a debt collector cannot contact your employer other than to:
Verify your employment status or verify your business address.
Garnish your wages after a court judgment is issued.
Inquire about insurance coverage if the debt is a medical bill.
9. When contacting you, a debt collector has to lawfully disclose who they are. That means they cannot:
Fail to give you his or her name
Fail to give you the name of the agency.
Pretend to be someone else.
Send misleading documents or give misleading information.
If you have a debt in collection or a debt collector or creditor is contacting you, please understand that you have rights and there are laws in place to protect you. Feel free to contact us for additional information and a list of federal, state, and consumer protection agencies you could contact to file a complaint.