Falling behind on bills is an increasingly common experience in a tough economy. But there’s an even more stressful experience that often goes hand in hand with missing payments: dealing with collection agencies. Third party collection agencies are companies that purchase your debts from the person or company to whom you originally owed them. These agencies often relentlessly hassle consumers. Consequently, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act was enacted, which provides numerous protections to consumers. Here’s an overview of what the law says collection agencies can and cannot do:
When Collection Agencies Can Contact You
The law says that collection agencies cannot call you more than once per day and must call only between the hours of 8:00 am and 9:00 pm. Further, a collection agency must stop calling you if you send them written notice requesting them to do so, and they cannot call you at work. They also cannot call you at a time you have told them is inconvenient for you.
How Collection Agencies Can Contact You
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act also place limits on what third party collection agencies can and cannot say to you on the phone. Collection agencies must explicitly identify themselves as such and cannot pretend to be an attorney, a friend, etc. A debt collection company cannot threaten action they do not intend to take, like a lawsuit, or action they cannot take, like arresting you. They also may not use abusive language or racial slurs, or “intentionally harass” you. The definition of intentional harassment is, of course, up for debate here.
Who Else Collection Agencies Can Contact
A debt collection company cannot publish your name on a “bad debt” list or send you mail that says on the outside it is from a debt collection company. They may also not discuss your debt with third parties, though they can contact third parties to obtain your address and phone number if and only if they do not already have it. A collection agency cannot contact you directly if you are represented by an attorney and must contact your attorney instead.
Other Things Collection Agencies Must Do
A third party collection company must also identify the name and the address of the original party to whom the debt is owed, as well as inform you of your right to dispute the debt if you do not believe you owe it. They cannot report information they know to be erroneous or in dispute to a credit reporting agency and they must provide written verification of the debt’s validity if you ask them to do so.
Dealing with collection agencies can be stressful, but knowing your rights can make the process easier. Collection agencies can be fined for each violation of the FDCPA, and you can sue them for damages. If you believe a collection agency has violated your rights, report the violation to your state attorney general’s office here and to the FTC www.ftc.gov