Siddons Law Firm explains what debt collectors can and cannot do in attempts to collect money owed by individuals and businesses. Knowing one’s rights as a debtor is crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has also been accompanied by an economic disaster that has adversely affected tens of millions of people and businesses. Knowing what debt collectors can and cannot do in their efforts to collect money owed can protect debtors from harassment, fraud, and unnecessary stress.
Basic Rules Debt Collectors Must Follow
Debt collectors are allowed to contact debtors by every communication system available, including by phone, letters, email, or text message. There are rules by which debt collectors must abide. Otherwise, they violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Those rules include:
- Debt collection agencies must identify themselves as such and give the name and the address for the collection agency.
- They must disclose the name of the creditor, the amount owed, and how to dispute the debt or seek verification of the debt.
- If the debt collector does not provide verification information on the first communication with the debtor, the debt collection agency must send written notice with that information within five days of the initial contact.
What Debt Collectors Are Not Allowed to Do or Say
Debt collectors must provide full disclosure of the information described above, but they are limited in other activities. Prohibitions include:
- Threatening delinquent debtors with violence or harm
- Using obscene or profane language
- Using the phone to annoy debtors with endless phone calls
- Public shaming
Debt collectors are not permitted to lie. They cannot misrepresent the amount owed, lie about being attorneys or government representatives, or falsely claim the debtor will be arrested.
Some things debt collectors should not say are:
- “Let’s see what your boss has to say about this.”
- “We’re going to have you arrested if you don’t pay.”
- “Pay us now, or we’re going to ruin your credit score.”
- “I don’t have to tell you that.”
- “I’ll keep calling.”
What to Do When Debt Collection Becomes Harassment
If a debt collection agency has violated a debtor’s rights under the FDCPA through repeated contact, abuse, threats, misleading information, or false representation, the debtor can sue the agency in state court. The burden of proof is on the debtor. If the judge rules in favor of the debtor, they can be awarded statutory damages as well as attorney’s fees. If taking this route, the debtor is strongly advised to hire an attorney to represent them. If the case is taken to state court, it must be done so within one calendar year from the date of the violation.
Debtors who feel their rights have been violated can also sue in small claims courts. The process is faster, but compensation for damages usually is limited. Many disputes with debt collectors go to arbitration hearings. Businesses, especially credit card and cell phone companies, have clauses in contracts with consumers that stipulate disputes must be settled in arbitration.
Debtors who are uncertain whether their rights have been violated can contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) with questions about the situation. They can also file complaints with the FTC, CFPB, or the local state attorney’s office.
Siddons Law Firm provides bankruptcy advice and legal services for individuals and businesses in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York. The firm is versed in all facets of collections practice, from dunning to execution on judgments and garnishment. Attorney Michael Siddons is a skilled bankruptcy practitioner who has represented a wide range of clients including public government, banking institutions, Fortune 500 companies, real estate developers, financial institutions, property management companies, parties to all types of executory contracts with debtors, plaintiffs, and defendants in 547 preference and similar actions and other bankruptcy-related litigation.