The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA): 6 ways it protects you
April 30, 2021
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is intended to stop debt collection agencies from using abusive and unethical practices. It’s crucial that you understand your rights under the FDCPA so you can assert them and protect yourself.
Collection agencies have a reputation for being abusive and unethical in how they treat consumers. This isn’t the case with all of them, but there have been so many issues with collection agencies that legislation was passed to protect consumers from abusive debt collection practices.
Today, collection agencies must adhere to debt collection laws so that they don’t violate terms set in place by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). If debtors are harassed, the debt collection company and the individual debt collector responsible for that behavior could face a lawsuit and imposition of legal fees.
What is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act?
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is a federal law that protects consumers from debt collecting agencies. Prior to this law, debt collectors would often make threats against consumers, saying that they would send them to jail for not paying their debts or send the police after them if they didn’t pay immediately over the phone.
In 1977, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) put an end to these aggressive practices by passing the FDCPA, which limits how often debt collectors can contact debtors. The act also puts more power in the hands of the consumer in the event that a debt collection agency violates the terms of the FDCPA.
What is a debt collection agency?
The FDCPA defines a debt collector as “any person who uses any instrumentality of interstate commerce or the mails in any business the principal purpose of which is the collection of any debts, or who regularly collects or attempts to collect, directly or indirectly, debts owed or due or asserted to be owed or due another.”
Basically, debt collection agencies are businesses that buy past-due debts from an original creditor, such as a bank or credit card company.
The debt collection agencies usually buy the debt for less than it is worth and then try to collect the outstanding balance from the consumer to get more than their money back. While there are agencies that handle both private and commercial debt, it’s worth mentioning that the FDCPA only applies to personal debt, not debts that have been incurred by businesses.
Six ways the FDCPA protects your rights
The FDCPA gives consumers certain rights and provides standards for acceptable third-party collections behavior. Essentially, debt agencies cannot engage in deceptive, unfair or abusive tactics to coerce you into paying back a debt.
Although the FDCPA clearly details the manner in which debt agencies can contact you, it can’t guarantee that they will always play by the rules. That’s why it’s important for you to know how your rights are protected.
To help you learn more about how these protections work in your favor—and how you can deal with debt collection agencies on your own—we discuss them in depth below.
1. Protection from harassment
When debt collectors contact you, they can’t harass you. The act states that behavior that has “intent to annoy, abuse, or harass any person” is not allowed, so things like using profanity or calling someone excessively are unacceptable. (Starting in fall 2021, debt collectors will be limited to calling no more than seven times in a week.) As mentioned, this doesn’t always prevent such behavior, but it is useful to know your rights so you can assert them with any problematic debt collectors.
Additionally, a debt collector shouldn’t contact you outside the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m., they shouldn’t contact you at work once you have asked them not to and they shouldn’t call you if you ask not to be contacted via phone. Make sure you submit all requests regarding a debt collector’s contact with you in writing so they are enforceable. If you have an attorney to represent you, then all communication must be conducted with the attorney rather than you.
Updates to the FDCPA will take effect in fall 2021 that modify the rules on how debt collectors can contact consumers. Specifically, they will be able to use email, text and social media to contact people, but the recipients of the messages should still be able to modify or opt out of these channels of communication.
2. Mandating disclosures
The FDCPA specifies that debt collectors must always include disclaimers such as “This correspondence is an attempt to collect a debt.” Before the FDCPA, collectors weren’t always forthcoming with their purpose of communicating with debtors.
If a collection agency doesn’t state their purpose right away when communicating with a debtor, whether that communication is written or verbal, then they are violating that person’s federal civil rights.
3. Prohibiting threats
The FDCPA prohibits collection agencies from screaming, threatening or actually employing violence, using profanity, misrepresenting their identity or hinting at possible imprisonment.
Collection agencies also cannot threaten legal action unless they fully intend to follow through with filing a lawsuit. Threatening to sue is one technique collection agencies have used to scare people, but this isn’t allowed unless legal action is already in motion to do so.
As for identity misrepresentation, this includes sending letters that look like official government correspondence. Another way these agencies have historically intimidated consumers is by indicating that they have some form of authority to do things like sending debtors to prison, which they can’t do. The FDCPA protects you from such nefarious tactics.
4. The right to cease communication
Under the terms of the FDCPA, consumers are permitted to formally request in writing that the collection agency cease and desist from communicating with them. If you make such a request, then the collector is legally obligated to comply.
The debt collector is still free to engage the legal system in order to collect outstanding debts, and they may advise the debtor of the steps they intend to take along those lines. Bear in mind that the collector can still contact the debtor in writing, especially if they plan to move forward with legal proceedings.
5. The right to debt validation
The FDCPA specifically details a consumer’s right to request further information regarding a debt. Such procedures are termed debt validation. It’s important to understand that every consumer has the right to challenge the validity of any debt.
A collector must then respond in a certain way; otherwise, the collection activity must cease and all related consumer reporting must be rescinded. Debt validation can become the central tool in your arsenal when confronting aggressive collectors.
If a collector has ever contacted you regarding a debt that you are not certain belongs to you, or one you feel you have paid already, it’s the collection agency’s obligation to provide proof that the money is, in fact, owed by you and that the debt is valid.
6. Protecting consumers’ privacy
The FDCPA also obligates debt collectors to behave in a certain manner when communicating with others who are not the debtor. Collectors must identify themselves by name and their employer, but they aren’t permitted to disclose the reason for their call, discuss details regarding the debt or mention the amount they are trying to collect. They may, however, ask family members and friends how to reach you.
If a debt collector communicates the details of your debt to a colleague, friend or family member, it is considered a huge invasion of your privacy. It’s a violation of your rights to discuss your debts with another party, even if that person is your spouse or immediate family. Without permission, there is no scope for a collection agency discussing your debt, or details of it, with anyone other than yourself.
Leveraging your rights as a consumer
Even though debt collection agencies can be intimidating, you do have rights under the FDCPA. You have a right to be treated respectfully and to have your privacy protected. You also have the right to validate any debts. At Lexington Law Firm, we leverage your rights under the FDCPA as a part of our credit repair strategy.
The FDCPA exists for your protection and should ensure that no company violates the law. If you believe your rights under the FDCPA have been violated, it’s a good idea to contact a consumer law attorney in your area to help you. You can also submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Keep a record of all interactions you have with debt collectors just in case. Remember: You do have rights as a consumer, and you don’t need to be alone in your financial struggles.
Born and raised in Salt Lake City, John Heath earned his BA from the University of Utah and his Juris Doctor from Ohio Northern University. John has been the Directing Attorney of Lexington Law Firm since 2004. The firm focuses primarily on consumer credit report repair, but also practices family law, criminal law, general consumer litigation and collection defense on behalf of consumer debtors. John is admitted to practice law in Utah, Colorado, Washington D. C., Georgia, Texas and New York.
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