The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) protects consumers from being harassed by debt collectors. A debt collector is a collection agency, a company that buys debts and then collects them, or a lawyer who regularly collects debts. The FDCPA protects you when you owe almost all types of debts, including credit card debt, mortgages, loans and medical bills. However, it does not cover any debt you might incur as a result of running a business. If a debt collector violates your rights, you are entitled to sue them for damages.
Debt collectors have legal restrictions on how they can contact you. They cannot call you in a manner that constitutes harassment, such as calling after 9 p.m. or before 8 a.m. Debt collectors can try to call you at work, but if you tell them either orally or in writing that they can no longer do so, they are legally bound to stop. Aside from gathering your contact information, debt collectors are forbidden to contact third parties about you. They also are not permitted to discuss your debt with third parties (except for your attorney).
Even if a debt collector’s phone calls or letters do not constitute harassment, you have the ability to cease communication. Write a letter to the debt collector telling him that he can no longer contact you. Be sure to make a copy for your records. Send the letter by certified mail and request a return receipt so the debt collector cannot claim that he did not receive the letter. After he has received the letter, there are only two ways in which he can legally contact you again. The first is if the debt collector is taking legal action against you and the second is to tell you that he will no longer contact you or that he is ceasing collection efforts.
Debt collectors are not allowed to swear at you or use obscene language. They cannot threaten you with physical violence. They cannot threaten to have you arrested. They cannot publicly embarrass you by publishing or otherwise making public any information that indicates you haven’t paid a debt. However, they can provide the information to credit reporting agencies. They also cannot harass you by calling repeatedly.
Debt collectors are not legally allowed to lie or distort facts when talking to you about a debt. They cannot claim that you have committed a crime. If they’ve sent you papers that are not legal documents, they cannot claim that they are legal documents. They cannot in any way misrepresent the amount of your debt. Debt collectors cannot imply that they work for a credit reporting agency, that they are a government employee or representative, or that they are lawyers.
Other unfair practices that a debt collector is prohibited from doing include sending you a postcard (because the information may not be kept private) and depositing a post-dated check early. Unless they can legally take your property, they cannot threaten to do so. They also cannot collect interest, unless you already agreed to pay interest when you incurred the debt. They cannot collect a fee from you unless your state’s law allows it.