When consumers get in over their heads financially, they may become the victims of harassing phone calls from overzealous debt collection agencies. These agencies often practice other unscrupulous tactics that are illegal. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) was passed in 1978 to protect consumers from abusive and harassing behavior by debt collectors. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces the FDCPA, but has been lax in its enforcement duties. Fortunately, where the FTC refuses to act, there are provisions within the FDCPA that permits private enforcement.
What Practices Are Prohibited by the FDCPA?
The FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from using unfair collection practices to collect consumer debts from consumers. This federal law states that collection agencies are not allowed to:
• Call consumers before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. local time
• Call after a consumer has requested that they cease all contact with you
• Lie to consumers about the actual balance owed on their account
• Use threatening or obscene language, including racial slurs and taunts
• Threaten consumers with being arrested and locked up in jail
• Pretend to be someone else in an effort to obtain personal information
• Tell a third party about a consumer’s debt, such as an employer
• Ignore a written request to verify the debt or to cease all communication
• Threaten to ruin credit ratings
• Make false claims that they represent an attorney or government official
• Threaten to have wages garnished or property seized if, in fact, that cannot be done or the threats are not intended
Complaints can be filed with the FTC event though it does not act on specific complaints. The FTC does compile statistics about complaint trends to enable it to determine where to allocate resources. Complaints can also be filed with State Attorney Generals and the Better Business Bureau. These, too, will not act on specific complaints, but do permit statistics to assist law enforcement actions.
How Do Debt Collectors Violate the FDCPA?
The most common violations that debt collectors use against consumers are the:
• Communicating with the consumer after receiving a cease and desist letter or debt dispute letter
• Charging interest and fees that the consumer did not agree to pay in an original credit agreement
• Repeatedly calling the debtor outside restricted hours or when the debt collector knows is inconvenient for the consumer
• Calling the consumer at work after being told the employer does not allow such calls
• Threatening to have debtors arrested and put in jail
• Pretending to be from the lottery or other organization to get personal information from the consumer
• Telling or threatening to tell friends, family, employer, and other unauthorized third persons about the debt
• Failing to report the debt as disputed to the major creditor bureaus after the consumer has sent a dispute letter
• Contacting the debtor after they have filed for bankruptcy
Many states impose deadlines in which a debt can be resolved in court. If the debt collector does not file an action within that period of time, the debt collector loses the right to sue. This is known as the statute of limitations and it varies by state law. Once the statute of limitations has run out, a debt collector can no longer enforce the debt to be paid in court; however, it can still try and collect so long as the debt collector uses legal methods.
Consumer Rights Attorneys Can Enforce the FDCPA
Consumers that have fallen behind in their payments don’t need to be subjected to collection threats, harassment, or abuse. Consumers have a right to be treated fairly during the often unpleasant experience of debt collection. But, debt collectors who violate the FDCPA can be penalized up to $1,000 in a consumer lawsuit. This penalty is known as “statutory damages” and would ordinarily belong to the consumer. Statutory damages are supposed to act as a deterrent against unlawful debt collection. There are other remedies provided by the FDCPA such as the payment of attorney’s fees and costs. These are designed to permit consumers to attract competent attorneys to take their case without the fear of large fees and costs.
If you have been the victim of harassing phone calls or letters, please contact us today so that we can help by putting an end to it. We are very experienced in the field of fair debt collection practices, and we regularly file a FDCPA lawsuits against debt collectors alleged to violate fair debt collection laws.