Debt collectors use a range of tactics when they are trying to get your attention. Threatening letters, non-stop phone calls, social media contact and emails are just some of the ways that a debt collector may use to get you to pay an outstanding balance. But what you may not know is that there are limits on how a collector can contact you. The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act is a national law that describes what can happen if a collector uses tactics that break the law. In fact, if you can prove that a collector has violated your rights, then you may be able to sue and win damages. Here’s more on aggressive debt collectors and what you can do if they are harassing you and your family.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
Believe it or not, you have rights as a debtor. Just because you are behind on bills or have an outstanding balance does not mean that debt collectors can treat you any way they want. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) was created to make sure that you are treated fairly and respectfully in dealings with a debt collector. The law lists how, when, and where a collector can contact you. It also limits who they may contact or disclose your debt to. A collector can face serious consequences for violating this law.
The following behavior is not allowed under the law:
- The use of abusive or threatening language: If a debt collector curses at you or threatens to physically harm you if you do not pay, then they may be breaking the law.
- Calling you repeatedly: While a debt collector may be able to call you once a day, they cannot call you incessantly. What this means is that they cannot call you to the point where it becomes harassing or extremely annoying.
- Calling you after 8 pm. A debt collector can only call you in between the hours of 8 am and 8 pm. If they call you outside of these hours, then they are in violation of the law.
- Contacting you at your job: If you are not allowed to receive personal calls at work, then it is not okay for a debt collector to contact you there. Once you make it known to a collector that they cannot call you at work, then they must immediately stop doing so.
- Disclosing your debt to friends or family: Your financial information is a private matter. The law says that a collector cannot share details about your debt with anyone except for a credit reporting agency. Telling your friends, family, or employer about your debt is a serious violation of privacy and may result in you receiving damages in court.
- Posting debt collection notices on social media accounts like Facebook and Twitter.
What Is A Debt Collector?
Not everyone that is trying to get a debt paid is considered a debt collector. For the law to apply, the collector must be contacting you about a debt that you had with a separate person or company. What this means is that your credit card company calling you about an overdue balance may not be considered a debt collector, but a collection agency sending you letters about delinquent doctor bills may be. The difference is that the credit card company is the original creditor, and the collection agency has been hired by your doctor. Only companies or individuals hired by the original creditor are considered debt collectors under the FDCPA.
Can I Sue?
The law provides you with a way to sue a debt collector if they have trampled on your rights. The law says that you may even be paid money by the collector if you prove that they have broken the law. In most cases, you will want to hire an attorney to draft and file the documents necessary for your lawsuit. Many consumer protection lawyers will take these cases on a contingency fee basis. What this means is that they will not collect a fee on your case unless it settles or you prevail in court. Very often, in these cases, your attorney’s fee will be paid by the debt collector if you win your case.
These cases are usually filed in state court, and so you may be able to initiate your lawsuit without an attorney in your state’s small claims court. Still, you will need to know who to sue and how to serve them. As it is not always clear who the debt collector is working for, you may want, at a minimum, to consult with a lawyer before you go to court.
How Much Can I Get?
The amount of money you can get from suing your debt collector can vary depending on the facts of your case. If you can prove that the collector broke the law, then you may get damages of up to $1000. If you can show that the debt collector caused you additional damages, then you may get more. An example would be if a debt collector repeatedly contacted you at work, causing you to be fired and lose income. In that scenario, you may be able to sue for the $1000 plus the amount of your lost wages.
Is There Anything Else I Can Do?
Suing a debt collector in court is not your only option when someone may have violated your rights. If the collectors believe that they may end up losing money if you sue them, then they may be willing to strike a deal with you in order to avoid the loss. Additionally, if the debt that you owe is still valid and owing, then you may be able to get the collector to eliminate or reduce your debt if you can prove that they broke the law when contacting you.
You can report a debt collector violation to a government agency. The collector could be sanctioned resulting in them correcting the unfair practices. While this may not get you any money, it may stop them from continuing to harass you and prevent them from doing the same thing to others. The CFPB has a consumer complaint database found here: https://www.consumerfinance.gov/data-research/consumer-complaints/
Consumer Protection Attorneys
If you are dealing with an aggressive debt collector, you may benefit from hiring an experienced consumer protection attorney. Specific laws regulate what debt collectors can and cannot do. The Finn Law Group has experienced consumer protection lawyers who know how to hold bad debt collectors responsible for violating your rights. Our experienced attorneys will thoroughly review your situation and advise you on how to resolve your matter. To consult with an attorney about your problem, call: (727) 214-0700 or contact us online for a free consultation at: https://www.finnlawgroup.com