Are there limitations when debt collectors can call consumers?
Yes, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act provides that debt collectors cannot contact consumers "at any unusual time or place known or which should be known to be inconvenient to the consumer." It establishes as a default rule that debtors should confine their debt calls to between 8:00 am and 9:00 pm. Debt collectors can call a person if they have "the prior consent of the consumer."
The debt collector also cannot contact a consumer at the person's place of employment "if the debt collector knows or has reason to know that the consumer's employer prohibits the consumer from receiving such communication." Debt collectors also should not contact a consumer if they know or have reason to know that the debtor is represented by an attorney with respect to that debt.
What is considered harassing behavior under the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA)?
The law prohibits the "the threat of use of violence," "use of obscene or profane language," the publication of a list of consumers who refuse to pay debts, and repeated ringing of a consumer's telephone "with the intent to annoy, abuse, or harass any person at the called number." The law also prohibits telephone calls without disclosing the identity of the caller.
Debt collectors can only contact you in person with your specific permission, and they cannot harass you with phone calls at odd hours or use abusive language on the phone. A good option for avoiding debt collectors is to work closely with a financial advisor who can negotiate on your behalf (iStock).
LegalSpeak: Congressional Findings for the Fair Debt Collection Practices
Act § 802. Congressional findings and declaration of purpose:
(a) There is abundant evidence of the use of abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection practices by many debt collectors. Abusive debt collection practices contribute to the number of personal bankruptcies, to marital instability, to the loss of jobs, and to invasions of individual privacy.
(b) Existing laws and procedures for redressing these injuries are inadequate to protect consumers.
(c) Means other than misrepresentation or other abusive debt collection practices are available for the effective collection of debts.
(d) Abusive debt collection practices are carried on to a substantial extent in interstate commerce and through means and instrumentalities of such commerce. Even where abusive debt collection practices are purely intrastate in character, they nevertheless directly affect interstate commerce.
(e) It is the purpose of this title to eliminate abusive debt collection practices by debt collectors, to insure that those debt collectors who refrain from using abusive debt collection practices are not competitively disadvantaged, and to promote consistent State action to protect consumers against debt collection abuses."
What other conduct does the FDCPA prohibit?
It prohibits "false and misleading representations" by debt collectors. This includes false communications that an individual is an attorney, affiliated with the U.S. government, misstating the amount of a debt, falsely stating that a consumer committed a crime, or representing that nonpayment of a debt will result in the "arrest or imprisonment of any person." False and misleading speech by debt collectors also includes the use of a business name or company other than the true name of the debtor, the implication that a debt collector works with a credit reporting agency and "the use of any false representation or deceptive means to collect or attempt to collect any debt or to obtain information concerning a consumer."
The act also lists a host of "unfair practices," which include depositing or threatening to deposit a postdated check early, the collection of interest not provided for by law, communicating with debtors by postcards, and using any language or symbol other than the debt collector's address when communicating with a consumer by mail.
Can consumers sue for violations of the FDCPA?
Yes, the law provides for a "civil liability" section that includes consumers receiving damages. Consumers can receive actual damages and additional damages of up to $1,000. The law also allows consumers to sue under a class-action theory. Consumers can also recover reasonable attorney's fees if they prevail in such an action. The law provides that such actions must be brought in a federal district court within one year from the date of the violations.