In 1968, Congress passed the Consumer Credit Protection Act (the “CCPA”) to shield consumers from unfair lending practices. In 1977, Congress passed an amendment to that act called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (the “FDCPA” or the “Act”). Since then, debt has become an even more pervasive part of our lives than it was, there are even more ways and methods for debt collectors to contact and harass consumers than there were when Congress passed the Act, and the consequences of debt collectors violating the Act have grown even more momentous.
The FDCPA continues to protect consumers and debtors. Lawyers for debt collection harassment reference and rely on the FDCPA when advocating for their clients who have suffered from unfair and abusive debt collection practices. This article identifies key provisions of the FDCPA that you should know to understand your rights and what you can do when debt collectors trample on those rights.
- The FDCPA governs and provides standards for all personal, family, and household debts. This includes all credit cards, mortgages, student loans, personal loans, medical bills, and household bills.
- The FDCPA does not apply to businesses, even small ones.
- The FDCPA applies to debt collectors – not the creditors – and the way debt collectors conduct their business, the business of attempting to collect debts.
- The FDCPA’s provisions outline what debt collectors are prohibited from doing when they contact consumers, what they are required to do when they contact consumers, and remedies for when debt collectors violate any of the provisions.
Key Provisions of the FDCPA
Here are the most important debt collection standards the FDCPA establishes:
- No Harassment. The FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from using abusive tactics when they try to collect debt from you. This includes threatening language including threats to disclose debt to third parties and abusive or profane language. They are not permitted to call you before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m. They are limited to calling you seven times within a seven-day period. They are prohibited from calling you at work, contacting you through anyone else, and from disclosing your debt to anyone else.
- No Disinformation. The FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from exaggerating the amount of your debt, the status of the debt, or the consequences of not paying the debt. They are prohibited from exaggerating their authority or who they are. In short, they must tell the truth.
- Validation. The FDCPA requires debt collectors to send you written notice that contains the amount of the debt, the creditor’s name, the creditor’s address, and your right to dispute the accuracy or validity of the debt. They must send you this within five days of their first contact with you. Should any part of this written notice not be accurate, you can dispute the debt within 30 days of receiving it. The FDCPA prohibits the debt collector from contacting you during this period.
- Cease and Desist. The FDCPA provides you the right to tell a debt collector to stop calling you. You should make this request in writing and upon receiving it, the debt collector can only contact you to confirm that they will not contact you anymore or to alert you to legal action.
- Enforcement. The FDCPA outlines legal actions that you can take against a debt collector. Legal action may entitle you to recover for actual damages, statutory damages, and attorneys’ fees if you can prove that the debt collector did violate the FDCPA.
When Debt Collectors Violate the FDCPA
If you think that a debt collector has violated the FDCPA, there are things you should do.
- Document Everything. It is important to keep records of every contact you have with a debt collector. This includes written documentation of the date, time, and length of every communication, every attempted communication, written documentation of the content and nature of every communication, and if possible, photos or screenshots of texts and phone calls. Save texts and voicemails.
- Contact a Consumer Attorney: As soon as you suspect that a debt collector has violated the FDCPA, you should contact an experienced attorney. A debt collection harassment attorney will assess the situation, collect evidence, determine the best course of action, and advocate for you. If appropriate, the attorney will sue the debt collector and advise you of any other appropriate action, like filing a complaint with other government agencies.
- Monitor Your Credit. You are entitled to a free credit report from the major credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) every week. You should request a report from all three bureaus to make sure that the debt collector or debt collectors have not reported the unpaid debt in violation of the FDCPA. This could be harassment and it could have significant consequences on your credit score and on your long-term financial well-being. If you see this, contact your attorney who can act on your behalf if action is appropriate.
- Limit the Damage. An attorney will help you take steps to limit the damage done by the FDCPA violations. This can include financial damage, stress, anxiety, depression, and depending on the circumstances and the scope of the FDCPA violation, job loss and significant financial loss.
Congress passed the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act because unfair and harassing debt collection practices were a problem. But the existence of the law does not mean debt collectors have not stopped resorting to unfair and deceptive practices to collect debts any more than speed limits on highways mean that cars no longer drive too fast. In fact, the combination of the prominence of debt in today’s world and the development of new technologies that provide new methods of contacting consumers only make debt collection harassment more prevalent.
Consumer Attorneys know the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Just as importantly, they know how the Act works to get consumers who have experienced harassment at the hands of a debt collector the compensation they deserve.