In these tough economic times it has become common practice for creditors to turn unpaid bills over to debt collection agencies. These agencies begin calling and sending letters to collect the amount owed; often the calls are frequent, frightening and threatening. It is bad enough to know that you have outstanding bills, but the menacing nature of a bill collector’s calls can leave you feeling frustrated and helpless.
Unfortunately if you are in this situation, where you are late on paying your bills, you are not alone, and you do have rights. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is a statute that outlaws numerous unfair debt collection practices and provides a framework for verifying the debt and ending calls.
Everything from who they can call, to when they can call, and what they say is governed by this law. Collectors may call your family or your neighbors in order to determine your location but they can only call a person once and cannot mention that you owe a debt. If the collector is given any notice that you are not to receive calls at work, then they absolutely may not call you there. In fact, a collector is prohibited from calling at any time or place after they learn it is an inconvenient time or place for you. Also, calls made before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m. are strictly prohibited.
Harassment and abuse is unlawful as well. Many times collectors take rather aggressive tones in their calls to collect debts. Overly abusive conduct, including the use of obscene language, yelling, or calling on multiple occasions for the purpose of harassment and abuse, is not allowed under the FDCPA. Finally, a collector cannot make false or misleading statements to you, or threaten to take action that they cannot legally take or don’t intend to take in an effort to collect the debt.
When a collector begins the collection process, they must send you a letter that identifies the original creditor, the balance owed, and explains your right to dispute the validity of the debt. If they receive a written dispute within 30 days, they will provide you validation of the debt – proof that you owe it and that the amount is correct. If the collector cannot respond to your written dispute with ample validation, then they must discontinue their collection of the account until such time as they can.
If you notify the collector at any time in writing to “cease and desist” all communications, or that you refuse to pay the bill then they must stop calling you. A popular collection tactic is to report the collection on one’s credit report thereby making it difficult to obtain any other credit while this bill remains unpaid. A collector may not report anything to a credit reporting agency that is false; if you dispute the debt or any portion of it, then the collector must report the fact that you have registered a dispute.
Whether or not you have used any of the protections above, if you feel your rights have been violated there is help. Our firm handles FDCPA violation cases and we offer a free attorney consultation. The FDCPA provides that a consumer that experiences a violation is entitled to any actual damage suffered as well as a statutory penalty of up to $1000. In addition, the law provides that if a consumer is successful in bringing a claim under this law, attorneys’ fees and costs are covered. If you prevail against a debt collector, the collector will leave you alone, you can obtain compensation, and you won’t have to worry about the cost of an attorney.
Larry SmithConsumer Rights Attorney at SmithMarco, P.C.Larry P. Smith is a consumer attorney and the founder and Managing Partner at SmithMarco, P.C. He has tried dozens of consumer rights cases to verdict and has arbitrated over 700 cases. Additionally, he has amicably resolved over 3,000 consumer fraud, Fair Credit Reporting Act and Fair Debt Collection Practices Act cases via settlement. Mr. Smith has been a guest on multiple radio outlets including WLS and WGN in Chicago providing consumer advice. Mr. Smith also provides leadership and delivers lectures to the National Association of Consumer Advocates, The National Consumer Law Center, and the Chicago Bar Association. Latest posts by Larry Smith (see all)
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