The General Rule of Thumb
- Collectors cannot talk to third parties without your permission. A debt collection agency cannot discuss your debt with third parties (friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, acquaintances, etc.) unless they have your express permission. Quite simply that means the debtor themselves must tell the collector that they have permission to speak with a particular person, i.e., a parent, sibling, employer or friend. This does not include spouses. Under FDCPA guidelines, a spouse is the same as the debtor regardless of whether the spouse is on the debt or not. A collector can call a husband or wife and discuss the payment of the debt.
Collectors can call third parties solely to seek your location information.
- Assuming no permission was given to the collector to speak to anyone besides you, the collector can still call a friend or relative for the purpose of locating the debtor. However there are limits as to how a collector can do this.
- The caller must identify themselves and state that they are calling to seek a person’s location information; they cannot reveal the name of the company calling unless the person called (that third party) expressly requests the company name.
- The collector can only call that person one time unless that person requests a call back at a later time or the collector has a reason to believe that the information given by the third party is wrong or incomplete and that the person now has the correct information.
The collector cannot reveal to that third party that the debtor owes a debt.
- A collector cannot tell a third party that a debt is owed and that is why they are looking for the debtor. There are many pitfalls a collector can fall into with this part of the statute.For instance, as stated above,the collector cannot volunteer the company name to the third party. This is because, in many instances, it would reveal the nature of the call and that it was for debt collection. Another way the collector can run afoul of the law in this area is through faxing an employer an employment verification form.
The message left on the answering machine issue.
This issue is a hotbed for many legal battles. The FDCPA requires that the collector advise the debtor in each and every communication that thecommunication is an attempt to collect a debtbut the collector cannot tell anyone aside from the debtor that a debt is owed. So, what happens when there is an answering machine that is heard by multiple people in a household other than a spouse? If they leave a message on an answering machine and don’t disclose that they are a debt collector, then they have violated the FDCPA. However, if they leave that message on the answering machine, and a third party hears it, they have also violated the FDCPA. Collectors claim that in this instance they are caught on a double-edged sword and they’re right!
Remember, even if you are in debt, you still have rights and one of those is the right to handle your debts privately without public ridicule or humiliation.