Your Right to Fair Debt Collection
If you have personal, family or household debts, you are protected from abusive debt collectors even if you don’t or can’t file for bankruptcy. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (the Act) requires that debt collectors treat you fairly. It prohibits abusive methods of debt collection.
A debt collector is any person whose principal business is the collection of debts of another. A creditor (the person or entity which gave you credit) and its employees seeking repayment of a debt are not considered ‘debt collectors.’
The collector must send you a written notice within five days after you are first contacted to tell you the amount of money owed, the creditor’s name and what to do if you believe you do not owe the money. This ‘validation notice’ warns you that if a debt is not disputed it is considered valid.
May a debt collector continue to contact me if I dispute the debt? A collector may not contact you if, within 30 days after you receive the written validation notice, you send the collection agency a letter stating you do not owe the money. However, a debt collector can renew collection activities by sending you proof of the debt, such as a copy of a bill for the amount owed.
A collector may contact you in person, by mail, telephone, e-mail, telegram or fax. However, a debt collector may not contact you at inconvenient times or places, such as before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you agree. A debt collector also may not contact you at work if the collector knows that your employer disapproves of such contacts.
You can stop a debt collector from contacting you by writing a letter to the collector telling them to stop. Once the debt collector receives your letter, they may contact you once to say there will be no further contact or to notify you of intended action. The letter does not make the debt go away if you actually owe it. You could still be sued by the debt collector or your original creditor.
May a debt collector contact anyone else about my debt? If you have a lawyer, the debt collector must contact the lawyer, rather than you. A collector may contact other people, but only to find out where you live, what your phone number is and where you work. Debt collectors usually are prohibited from contacting relatives, neighbors or others more than once. In most cases, the debt collector may only tell you (or your attorney) that you owe money.
What types of debt collection practices are prohibited?
Harassment- Debt collectors may not harass or abuse you or others they contact. For example, debt collectors may not:
- use threats of violence or harm;
- publish a list of consumers who refuse to pay their debts (except to a credit bureau);
- use obscene or profane language; or
- repeatedly use the telephone to annoy someone.
False statements- Debt collectors may not use any false or misleading statements when collecting a debt. For example, debt collectors may not:
- falsely imply that they are attorneys or government representatives;
- falsely imply that you have committed a crime;
- falsely represent that they operate or work for a credit bureau;
- misrepresent the amount of your debt;
- indicate that papers sent to you are legal forms when they are not; or
- indicate that papers being sent to you are not legal forms when they are.
Debt collectors also may not state that:
- you will be arrested if you do not pay your debt;
- they will seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages, unless the collection agency or creditor intends to do so, and it is legal to do so; or
- actions, such as a lawsuit, will be taken against you, when such action legally may not be taken, or when they do not intend to take such action.
Debt collectors may not:
- give false credit information about you to anyone, even a credit bureau;
- send you anything that looks like an official document from a court or government agency when it is not; or
- use a false name.
Unfair practices. Debt collectors may not engage in unfair practices when they try to collect a debt. For example, collectors may not:
- collect any amount greater than your debt, unless your state law permits such a charge;
- deposit a post-dated check prematurely;
- use deception to make you accept collect calls or pay for telegrams;
- take or threaten to take your property unless this can be done legally; or
- contact you by postcard.
What control do I have over payment of debts? If you owe more than one debt, any payment you make must be applied to the debt you indicate. A debt collector may not apply a payment to any debt you believe you do not owe.
If you believe a debt collector violated the law you have the right to sue in court within one year from the date the law was violated. If you win, you may recover money for the damages you suffered plus an additional amount up to $1,000. Court costs and attorney's fees also can be recovered.
This article is meant for you general information and not to give you specific legal advice.
Prepared by Community Legal Aid Services, Inc. Updated February 2015.