If you find yourself in debt, so behind on your payments that you are being contacted by debt collectors, you should consider hiring a lawyer. RTR cannot eliminate the debts you owe (bankruptcy is another matter), but we can help prevent debt collectors from violating your privacy, harassing you and your family, and unfairly attempting to collect the money you owe.
All debt collectors are confined to the ethical debt collection practices outlined in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act of 1978 (FDCPA), which also includes your right to require the collector to deal with your attorney when you have one. If you’re unfamiliar with this law, here are some questions we often receive:
What kind of debt is covered under the FDCPA?
The FDCPA covers personal, family, and household debts, including money you owe on a personal credit card account, auto loans, medical bills, and your mortgage. The FDCPA does not cover debts you incurred to run a business.
Can a debt collector contact me at any time or place?
No, debt collectors may not contact you at inconvenient times or places — such as before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m. — unless you agree to it. Nor are they allowed to contact you at work if they are told (orally or in writing) that you’re not allowed to receive calls there.
How can I stop a debt collector from contacting me?
If you do not want a debt collect to contact you again, tell the collector in writing to stop contacting you. Sending a letter to a debt collector to whom you owe money will not rid you of your debt, but it will prevent them from contacting you. Keep a copy of the letter, and send the original by certified mail to the collector. Pay for a return receipt to document when the collector received it. Once they have received your letter, they may not contact you again, with two exceptions:
- A collector can contact you to tell you that there will be no further contact
- A collector can contact you to inform you that they or the creditor intend to take a specific action, like filing a lawsuit. The creditor can still sue you to collect the debt.
Can a debt collector contact anyone else about my debt?
If an attorney is representing you, the debt collector must contact your lawyer instead of you. On the other hand, if you don’t have an attorney, a collector may contact third parties once but only to find out your address, home phone number, and employer. Other than to obtain this information about you, a debt collector is generally not permitted to discuss your debt with anyone other than you, your spouse, or your attorney.
What does the debt collector have to tell me about the debt?
Within five days of first contacting you, every collector is required to send you a written “validation notice” that specifies how much money you owe. This notice must also include the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money and instructions for how to proceed if you think you don’t owe the debt.
Can a debt collector keep contacting me if I think I don’t owe any money?
If you have sent the debt collector a letter stating that you don’t owe any or all of the money or asking for verification of the debt, the collector must stop contacting you. You must send this letter within 30 days of receiving the validation notice. A collector can begin contacting you again if they send you written verification of the debt, such as a copy of the bill for the amount you owe.
What practices are off-limits to debt collectors?
Harassment. Debt collectors may not harass, oppress, or abuse you or any third parties they contact. For example, these harassing actions are prohibited to debt collectors:
- Publishing a list of people’s names who refuse to pay their debts (but they can give this information to credit reporting companies)
- Repeatedly using the phone to annoy someone
- Using obscene or profane language
- Using threats of violence or harm
False Statements. Debt collectors may not lie when they are trying to collect a debt, including, but not limited to, these statements:
- Falsely claiming that they are attorneys or government representatives
- Falsely claiming that you have committed a crime
- Falsely representing that they operate or work for a credit reporting company
- Indicating that papers they send you are legal forms if they aren’t
- Indicating that papers they send you aren’t legal forms if they are
- Misrepresenting the amount you owe
Prohibited Statements. These statements are off-limits to debt collectors:
- Legal action will be taken against you, if doing so would be illegal or if they don’t intend to take the action
- They’ll seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages (unless the law permits them to take such actions, in which case, they must tell you they intend to take such actions)
- You will be arrested if you don’t pay your debt
Prohibited Actions. Debt collectors are banned from taking these actions:
- Giving false credit information about you to anyone, including a credit reporting company
- Sending you anything that looks like an official document from a court or government agency if it isn’t from such an entity
- Using a false company name
Unfair Practices. Debt collectors may not engage in unfair practices, including those listed below, when they try to collect a debt:
- Contacting you by postcard
- Depositing a post-dated check early
- Taking or threatening to take your property unless that can be done legally
- Trying to collect any interest, fee, or other charge on top of the amount you owe unless the contract that created your debt — or your state law — allows the charge
Do I have any recourse if I think a debt collector has violated the law?
You have the right to sue a collector in a state or federal court within one year from the date the law was violated. If you win, the judge can require the collector to pay you for any damages you can prove you suffered because of the illegal collection practices, like lost wages and medical bills. Even if you can’t prove that you suffered actual damages, the judge can require the debt collector to pay you up to $1,000, and you may also be reimbursed for your attorney’s fees and court costs. A group of people may sue a debt collector as part of a class action lawsuit and recover money for damages. But even if a debt collector violates the FDCPA in trying to collect a debt, the debt does not go away if you owe it.