DEBT COLLECTION HARASSMENT: KNOW YOUR RIGHTS

by Ed van Vianen, Fitzgibbons Law Offices

This article looks at your rights in dealing with debt collectors who are willing to say anything – true or not – to get you to part with your money.

To protect the public, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) prohibits collectors from engaging in abusive and harassing conduct. The law generally applies to third-party collectors and only to consumer debts, such as car loans, mortgages, charge accounts and medical bills.

Under the law, a debt collector generally may not:

  • contact you at unreasonable times unless you agree;
  • contact you at work if you tell the collector your employer disapproves;
  • communicate with third parties, such as friends, neighbors and children;
  • contact you after you write a letter telling the collector to stop, except to notify you if the collector or creditor plans to take a specific action;
  • harass you with repeated phone calls, obscene or profane language, or threats to harm you;
  • make false representations of the amount or legal status of any debt;
  • make any false statement or claim that you will be arrested;
  • threaten to have money deducted from your paycheck or to sue you, unless that course of action is legal and the collector or creditor intends to pursue it.

The collector must disclose that the collector is attempting to collect a debt and any information obtained will be used for that purpose. The collector must disclose in subsequent communications that the communication is from a debt collector.

Also, within five days after the initial communication, the collector generally must send you a written notice that tells you the name of the creditor, how much you owe, and what action to take if you believe you do not owe the money.

Protecting Your Rights. If you dispute the debt’s validity in writing within 30 days, the collector must stop collection efforts until they provide verification of the debt.

If the debt and the collector are legitimate, try to work out a repayment plan.

Either way, keep all collection letters and copies of the letters you send.

If a debt collector violates your FDCPA rights, you can generally sue the collector (within one year of the violation) for up to $1,000 in statutory damages, attorney’s fees and actual damages.

Ed van Vianen is a bankruptcy attorney at Fitzgibbons Law Offices in Casa Grande (520-426-3824).