Often times, when attempting to collect a debt, collectors contact friends and/or family members of the person who allegedly owes the debt, more formally referred to as “third party contact”. “Third party contact” can be done within the guidelines of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”). However, there are limits to these contacts, and a debt collector needs to be extremely careful when making contact with a third party.
Collectors are permitted to contact friends and/or family members solely to obtain location information regarding the debtor.
Moreover, the FDCPA states that when contacting the third party, the collector must notify the person they are calling that they are seeking the location information of the consumer, and may not disclose the name of the collector’s employer unless expressly requested by the person called. The collector can only call that third party one time, unless they have good reason to believe that the information given by that third party the first time around was incorrect. Most importantly, however, the debt collector must refrain from disclosing to the third party that the consumer owes any debt.
Despite the strict guidelines of the FDCPA, collectors often go beyond the four corners of the statute and push the envelope to obtain payment thus violating the Act. Collectors often times make third party contact to coerce the debtor into making payment by leaving cryptic messages for the collector to pass on. The debt collector seeks to incite the debtor into making a call to the collector so that the collector can make further attempts to coerce payment. Sometimes, if the collector contacted a parent of the debtor, the collector would attempt to convince that parent to pay on the debtor’s behalf.
If the collector contacting the third party makes any disclosures regarding the fact that the debtor owes any debt or if the third party has knowledge that the collector has already located the debtor, the debtor may be able to sue the debt collector for damages and attorney fees under the FDCPA. The third party has some of the same rights under the FDCPA as the alleged debtor. Any attempts by the collector to use abusive or threatening language, or any means of harassment, when speaking with the third party can subject the collector to liability to that third party under the FDCPA. Also, if that third party has made it abundantly clear that they cannot lead the collector to the debtor, but that collector insists on continued calls to that third party, then the third party has a claim against the collector under the FDCPA.
Other blogs written related to this topic can be found at Debt Collection, Third Party Contact and Collectors Call Your Friends, Family and Co-Workers.
If you or a friend or family member are being contacted by a collector and feel your rights have been violated under the FDCPA, contact SmithMarco P.C. for a free case review.