Debt Collections: Know your rights

by J. Branden Snyder

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debt collector, debt collections law, law offices of tim o'hareNobody enjoys dealing with debt collectors. Unfortunately, for many people, this is a real part of everyday life. If you are or have ever been behind on paying bills, whether household bills, your mortgage, a car loan or personal credit card bills, debt collectors have probably contacted you.

Though they are often annoying and sometimes intimidating, the Federal Trade Commission’s Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) prohibits debt collectors from certain practices when collecting debt. It’s important that you know your rights under Federal law in order to prevent being a victim of abusive debt collection.

Here are a few important things you should know about your rights under federal law:

  • The FDCPA covers personal, family and household debts. These may include credit card payments, car loans, medical bills and even your mortgage. The act does not cover business debts.
  • A debt collector may not contact you before 8am or after 9pm unless you have given them permission to do so.
  • If you express orally or in writing that you are not allowed to get calls at work, debt collectors may not contact you at your workplace.
  • Debt collectors are allowed to contact other people about your debt, but only to get your address, phone number and place of work. In most cases, they are prohibited from contacting third parties more than once and are not allowed to discuss your debt with anyone other than you, your spouse or your attorney.
  • If you have an attorney representing you about your debt, the debt collector may not contact you directly, but must contact your attorney instead.
  • It is possible to get a debt collector to stop contacting you. Send a letter to the collector via certified mail and request a return receipt. (Keep a copy of the letter for yourself.) Though it does not erase your debt, the collector may not contact you again except to notify you they will end contact or if the creditor is filing a lawsuit against you.

Keep in mind that many states have their own debt collection laws that may vary from the FDCPA.

Illegal practices

Debt collectors are prohibited from unfair practices, harassing you and/or making false statements to you or anyone else regarding your debt. According to the FTC, some examples of these types of illegal practices include:

  • Making threats of violence or harm
  • Publishing a list of names of people who refuse to pay their debts
  • Using obscene or profane language
  • Using the phone repeatedly to annoy someone
  • Falsely claiming they are attorneys or government officials
  • Falsely claiming you have committed a crime or that you will be arrested if you don’t pay
  • Falsely claiming they work for a credit reporting company
  • Misrepresenting the amount you owe
  • Depositing a back-dated check early
  • Contact you by postcard

If you think a debt collector has violated state or federal law, you have a right to sue within one year from the date the law was violated. If you win, a judge may order the collector to pay you for any damages you incurred as a result of the collector’s illegal practices, including lost wages and medical bills. Violations should be reported to the state Attorney General’s Office, the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

If you are being sued by a collection agency or believe that a debt collector has violated your rights, you need an attorney on your side who has experience with Fair Debt Collection Practices Act cases. Contact the The Law Offices of Tim O’Hare for a free consultation with one of our attorneys.

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