In the United States, laws have been developed to prevent consumers from facing abusive debt collection tactics, such as harassment and breach of privacy, that can negatively impact their personal and financial lives.
However, to fully protect yourself from debt collectors who will do whatever they can to collect payment and even potentially break these rules, you must be informed and aware of your rights. Learn about the federal laws created to protect consumers as well as how you can recognize, stop and report abusive collection tactics.
What Are Abusive Collection Tactics?
When a debt collector violates rules set by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and attempts to obtain payment from a debtor through unethical, harmful and illegal methods, they are likely using abusive collection tactics.
For example, it is considered abusive and illegal for a debt collector to do any of the following:
The FDCPA and Your Rights
Congress enacted the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) in 1978 as a way to protect consumers from the abusive and previously unregulated practices of debt collectors. By outlining a thorough list of rules regulating how and when debt collectors can communicate with and obtain payment from debtors, the act prohibits debt collectors from using the tactics in the above list.
For instance, the FDCPA contains a section detailing how a debt collector may obtain a debtor’s location information. This part of the act protects debtors’ privacy by prohibiting collectors from revealing that the debtor owes any debt to any third party. Another section lists the many actions a debt collector could take that would violate consumers’ rights against false or misleading information. These include inaccurate information about the status or amount of a debt, deceptively pretending to be an attorney or falsely threatening arrest.
How Can You Protect Your Rights?
To fully protect your FDCPA-granted rights, it’s important that you understand what they are, feel empowered to assert them and know what resources may be available to help you fight against abusive collection tactics.
Know and assert them
The first step in protecting your rights when it comes to debt collection is to know what they are and assert them by taking the appropriate actions. Some rules within the FDCPA, for instance, only require debt collectors to stop certain tactics if the consumer tells them to stop through writing.
For example, if you would like a debt collector to stop attempting to contact you, collectors must cease communication regarding the debt if you send them a written notification that either asks them to stop or states that you refuse to pay the debt. You can also notify the collector in writing, within a certain timeframe, that you want to dispute the debt or ask for the original creditor’s name and address, and the collector must stop attempts at collection until they verify the debt or provide the relevant information.
As another example, a debt collector is not allowed to contact a consumer at their place of employment if they know this is something the employer does not allow. Therefore, a debt collector must stop contacting you at your place of work if you inform them of your employer’s policy against such communication.
Work with an attorney
While working with an attorney isn’t necessary to assert your rights against abusive collection tactics, it may be helpful. A debt collection attorney can act as the sole point of contact with a collector, handle lawsuits made by or against the collector and possibly even negotiate to adjust the terms or reduce the amount of debt owed.
Get information about your debts
Along with knowing your rights when it comes to debt collection, it’s important that you know exactly what you owe and when you owe it, as well as the potential consequences of not paying. As stated previously, if you don’t have all the information already, you can ask the collector in writing to verify the debt amount as well as the name and address of the original creditor.
By reporting violations of the FDCPA, you can protect your own rights and those of others who may also encounter the abusive tactics of the same debt collector. You can file complaints with the FTC, your state attorney general’s office and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
The FTC has an online form for reporting fraud, but it routes complaints specific to debt collection to the CFPB’s complaint submission page. You can find out who your state attorney general is and their contact information here.
Along with reporting violations, you have the right to sue for damages, such as lost wages, due to a debt collector’s illegal acts. Even without proving damages, you may receive an award of up to $1,000 plus reimbursement of any attorney and court fees.