Everyone would like to remain free of debt, but this is not always possible. The loss of a job, a medical emergency or bad money management can put you in debt almost before you realize what is happening. When you fall behind on your debts, creditors will inevitably start pressing you for repayment. Collection agencies are limited in what actions they can take while attempting to collect the debt, however. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, or FDCPA passed in 1977, defines what practices are acceptable and what which ones are unacceptable when debt collectors attempt to collect consumer debts. The FDCPA covers various types of personal and household debt including the following:
- Credit Card Debt
- Auto loans
- Medical Debt
The act does not cover business debt or collection efforts made in-house rather than through a collection agency. A retail store trying to collect a debt using its own employees would not be subject to the terms of the FDCPA in most instances, for example.
A crucial part of the FDCPA is the prohibition of certain practices that are considered harassing or abusive. Third-party debt collectors any not engage in the following conduct:
Contact you at inconvenient hours
The debt collector may not contact you between the hours of 9pm and 8am unless you give your expressed permission.
Harass you at work
The debt collector may not contact you at work unless your employer specifically approves of such calls. You must communicate your employer's wishes to the collector either verbally or in writing.
Harass other people about your debt
Other than your spouse, your attorney and yourself, a debt collector may contact other people only to find out your address, your phone number and where you work. He may contact them only once to find out this information.
Continue to contact you after you ask them to stop
Once you request in writing that a debt collector stop contacting you, he must do so. The two exceptions to this are to tell you he is stopping the contact and to tell you he is taking a certain action concerning your debt, such as taking you to court
The FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from threatening you with jail if you do not pay the debt. It also prevents them from claiming they will take your property or have your wages garnished, unless they can legally take these actions and actually intend to follow through on these claims. They may not threaten you with physical harm.
Make False Statements
Debt collectors may not falsely claim to be lawyers or government officials and may not give anyone false credit information about you or falsely state that you have committed any type of crime.
Try to Collect Added Fees
The act forbids the debt collector from attempting to collect any fees that were not part of the original contract between the creditor and the debtor unless specifically allowed by the laws in your state.
You have certain rights of privacy under the act. The debt collector may not contact you through the mails in any way that identifies you as a debtor. He may not contact you by postcard and may not use any language or symbols on his envelopes that indicates he is a debt collector. He may also no publish any type of list that names you as a debtor. Under the provisions of the act you have the right to sue the debt collector in court if you feel he has violated the law. You must file the lawsuit within one year of the violations and may be awarded damages and attorney's fees if claim is upheld.