In 1977, Congress enacted the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) as a way to protect consumers from harassment, deceit, and unfair tactics by debt collectors. The FDCPA applies to personal and household debts collected by third parties, which happens when the lender you owe either sells the debt to another company or hires another individual or company to collect the debt from you on their behalf. It's important for you to understand your rights under the FDCPA and know what to do if a collector has violated your rights.
Consumer Rights Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
Confidentiality: Debt collectors are not allowed to discuss your debt with anybody else, except your spouse, your parents if you are a minor, and your attorney if you have one who is representing you. While debt collectors can provide information about debts to credit bureaus, they cannot publish names of people who owe debts. All mail you receive about debts must be in envelopes that do not state they are from a debt collector. Debt collectors are allowed to contact other people to ask for your address, home phone number, or place of employment, but they cannot discuss your debt with these people.
Verification: All debt collectors must send you a validation notice within five days of when they first contact you, and this notice must state the amount of the debt and the name of the original lender. After you receive this validation notice, you have the right to request verification that a debt belongs to you, but you must request this verification within 30 days. If you do not request verification, this is an automatic acknowledgment that the debt is valid.
Limit communication: Debt collectors are never allowed to contact you between 9 pm and 8 am unless you agree to contact during these times. If you tell them not to contact you at work, they must stop contacting you at work. Also, they are not allowed to harass you by making excessive phone calls. Once you tell them that an attorney is representing you concerning this debt, they must only communicate with your attorney.
End communication: At any time, you can request that a debt collector ceases all forms of communication with you. To do this, you must send a letter to the debt collector telling them not to contact you at all about this debt. Send it through certified mail with a return receipt so you have proof the collector received the letter. After receiving the letter, the only reasons a debt collector can contact you again are to acknowledge receipt of the letter or to inform you that they are going to take a specific action, such as filing a lawsuit against you.
Honesty: Debt collectors are never allowed to provide false, deceitful, or misleading information in their communication with you. They can't pose as government officials or people who work at the companies that originally lent you the money. They must not threaten you with actions they cannot take or do not intend to take, such as arresting you, selling your property, or causing physical harm to you or your family. Debt collectors are also not allowed to claim that documents they send are legal court documents if they are not.
What to Do if a Debt Collector is Violating Your Consumer Rights
Because of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, you have several courses of action you can take if a debt collector is using unfair practices or is harassing you. If the debt collector violates any of the rights outlined above, you can take one or more of three potential actions:
- Send a cease communication letter to end all forms of harassment by the debt collector. In this letter, specify that you would like the debt collector to stop contacting you by any method, including home phone, cell phone, work phone, text message, postal mail, and in person. As soon as the debt collector receives this letter, they are not legally allowed to contact you except to acknowledge receipt of the letter or to inform you about specific action they will be taking.
- File complaints with your state Attorney General’s office and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In your complaint, specify who the debt collector is, which of your consumer rights were violated, and what the debt collector did that violated your rights. These groups can help follow up to resolve the issues on your behalf, and can also pass along the information you provide to law enforcement agencies that may take direct action against the debt collector.
- Bring a lawsuit against the debt collector. Monetary compensation can be awarded for lost wages or medical bills that result from the debt collector's behaviors, in addition to money to cover your court costs and attorney fees and up to $1,000 in cash for general damages. If you are planning to file a lawsuit, you need to document the specific ways in which your rights under the FDCPA were violated. Save copies of all the mail you have received from the debt collector and sent to the debt collector. Also, log the date, time, and content of all phone communication.