How to Report a Debt Collector Who is Violating the
Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
by Richard Fonfrias,
J.D. Chicago’s Financial Rescue &
Fonfrias Law Group, LLC
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). This Act prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect from you.
Under the FDCPA, a debt collector is someone who regularly collects debts owed to others. This includes collection agencies, lawyers who collect debts on a regular basis, and companies that buy delinquent debts and then try to collect them.
Here’s What Debt Collectors Can and Cannot Do:
What types of debts are covered?
The Act covers personal, family, and household debts. The FDCPA does not cover debts you incurred to run a business.
Can a debt collector contact you any time or any place?
No. A debt collector may not contact you at inconvenient times or places, such as before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you agree to it. Also, collectors may not contact you at work if they’re told (orally or in writing) that you’re not allowed to get accept calls at work.
How can you stop a debt collector from contacting you?
Write a letter to the collector telling him or her to stop contacting you. Make a copy of your letter. Send the original by certified mail, “return receipt requested” so you’ll be able to document what the collector received. Sending a letter to a debt collector demanding no further contact does not get rid of the debt, but it should stop the contact. The creditor or the debt collector can still sue you to collect the debt.
Can a debt collector contact anyone else about your debt?
If an attorney represents you about the debt, the debt collector must contact the attorney, rather than you. If you don’t have an attorney, a collector may contact other people — but only to find out your address, your home phone number, and where you work. In most cases, collectors are prohibited from contacting third parties more than once. A debt collector is not permitted to discuss your debt with anyone other than you, your spouse, or your attorney.
What does the debt collector have to tell you about the debt?
Within five days after they first contact you, every collector must send you a written “validation notice” telling you how much money you owe. This notice must include the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money, and how to proceed if you don’t think you owe the money.
Can a debt collector keep contacting you if you don’t think you owe any money?
If you send the debt collector a letter stating that you do not owe any or all of the money — or asking for verification of the debt — that collector must stop contacting you. (You have to send that letter within 30 days after you receive the validation notice.) But a collector can start contacting you again if it sends you written verification of the debt, like a copy of a bill for the amount you owe.
What practices are off limits for debt collectors?
> Debt collectors may not harass, oppress, or abuse you or any third parties they contact. For example, they may not use threats of violence or harm; publish a list of names of people who refuse to pay their debts (but they can give this information to the credit reporting companies); use obscene or profane language; or repeatedly use the phone to annoy someone.
> Debt collectors may not lie when they are trying to collect a debt. For example, debt collectors may not falsely claim that they are attorneys or government representatives; falsely claim that you have committed a crime; falsely represent that they operate or work for a credit reporting company; misrepresent the amount you owe; indicate that papers they send to you are legal forms if they are not; or indicate that papers they send to you are not legal forms if they are.
> Debt collectors cannot say that you will be arrested if you do not pay your debt; they’ll seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages unless they are permitted by law to take that action and intend to do so; or legal action will be taken against you, if doing so would be illegal or if they do not intend to take the action.
> Debt collectors may not give false credit information about you to anyone, including a credit reporting company; send you anything that looks like an official document from a court or government agency if it isn’t; or use a false company name.
> Debt collectors may not use unfair practices when they try to collect a debt. For example, they may not try to collect any interest, fee, or other charge on top of the amount you owe unless the contract that created your debt — or your state law — allows that charge; deposit a post-dated check early; take or threaten to take your property unless it can be done legally; or contact you by postcard.
Can you control which debts your payments apply to?
Yes. If a debt collector is trying to collect more than one debt from you, the collector must apply any payment you make to the debt you select. In addition, a debt collector may not apply a payment to a debt you think you don’t owe.
Can a debt collector garnish your bank account or your wages?
If you don’t pay a debt, a creditor or its debt collector generally can sue you to collect. If they win, the court will enter a judgment against you. The judgment states the amount of money you owe, and allows the creditor or collector to get a garnishment order against you, directing a third party, like your bank, to turn over funds from your account to pay the debt.
Wage garnishment happens when your employer withholds part of your compensation to pay your debts. Your wages usually can be garnished only as the result of a court order. Don’t ignore a lawsuit summons. If you do, you lose the opportunity to fight a wage garnishment.
Do you have any recourse if you think a debt collector has violated the law?
You have the right to sue a collector in a state or federal court within one year from the date the law was violated. If you win, the judge can require the collector to pay you for any damages you can prove you suffered because of the illegal collection practices, like lost wages and medical bills. The judge can require the debt collector to pay you up to $1,000, even if you can’t prove that you suffered actual damages. Also, you can be reimbursed for your attorney’s fees and court costs.
What should you do if a debt collector sues you?
If a debt collector files a lawsuit against you to collect a debt, make sure you preserve your rights by responding to the lawsuit — either personally or through your lawyer — by the date specified in the court papers.
If you believe a debt collector is violating the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, make sure you get the following information:
Collection agency’s name:__________________________________________________
Original creditor’s name (confirm it’s a consumer debt):____________________________
What number does the collection agency call you on (home, work, cell)?
What number does the collection agency call from (what number shows up on your caller ID)?_____________________________________________________________________
Has the collection agency done any of the following (check all that apply)?
- Called you about a debt you do not owe
- Continued to call you after you have told the collector you cannot pay the debt
- Communicated (phone or letter) with you after you filed for bankruptcy
- Communicated (phone or letter) with you after you told the collector you have a lawyer
- Called you at work after you told the collector you cannot receive calls at work
- Left you a message without saying the company’s name
- Left you a voicemail message without saying that the call is from a debt collector
- Called third parties (family, friends, co-workers, or neighbors)
- Disclosed to a third party that you owe a debt
- Contacted you after you told the collector to stop calling
- Threatened you with legal action or wage garnishment
- Make sure you log all phone calls, save all letters, and save all voicemail messages.
- Where do you report a debt collector for an alleged violation?
In some cases, it pays to hire a lawyer to fight a collection agency. It won’t cost you any money because the collection agency pays your lawyer’s fees and costs. If the debt collector does not comply with the FDCPA, the collector is liable for any actual damages you sustained, punitive damages, and statutory damages up to $1,000. The FDCPA’s fee-shift provision means that the collection agency must pay your attorney’s fees and costs