Posted by Aurelia E Weems CPA

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA): Ways to Protect Yourself

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA): Ways to Protect Yourself

Collection agencies have a reputation for being offensive and unethical in the way they treat consumers. This is not true for everyone, but there have been so many problems with debt collection agencies that legislation has been passed to protect consumers from abusive debt collection practices.

Today, debt collection agencies must comply with these regulations to not violate the conditions set out in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). If debtors are harassed, the collection company and the person responsible for such behavior may face legal action and the imposition of legal fees.


What is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Law?

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is a federal law that protects consumers from debt collection agencies. Before the law, collectors threatened consumers, saying they would send them to jail for not paying their debts or send police to find them if they didn't pay immediately.

In 1977, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) put an end to these aggressive practices by approving the FDCPA, which limits the frequency with which debt collectors can contact debtors. The law also puts more power in the hands of the consumer if a debt collection agency violates the terms of the FDCPA.


What is a collection agency?

The FDCPA describes a debt collector as "any person who uses an instrument of interstate commerce or electronic mail in a business whose primary purpose is to collect debts or who regularly collects debts or seeks to collect debts, directly or indirectly, any debt owed, or due or owed to another."

Debt collection agencies are businesses that buy unpaid debts from an original creditor, such as a bank or a credit card company.

Collection agencies usually buy smaller debts than they deserve and then collect the consumer debt balance to collect more money. While there are agencies that deal with private and commercial debt, it is important to remember that the FDCPA only refers to personal debt and not commercial debt.


Six Ways the FDCPA Can Protect Your Rights

The FDCPA grants consumers certain rights and provides standards for acceptable third-party billing behavior. Essentially, debt management agencies cannot engage in deceptive, unfair, or abusive tactics to force you to pay your debts.

While the FDCPA clarifies how your creditors can contact you, it cannot guarantee that they will always follow the rules. It is imperative to know your rights.

To help you understand how these rights work in your favor and how you can handle debt collection agencies on your own, we'll cover these issues in detail below.


Protection against harassment

When debt collectors contact you, they cannot harass you. The law states that behavior that "aims to upset, mistreat or harass someone" is not allowed, so things like swearing or calling someone excessively are unacceptable. (Starting in fall 2021, debt collectors will limit themselves to calling up to seven times a week.) As mentioned, this doesn't always prevent this behavior, but it does help you know your rights to apply them to the debt collector problem.

Additionally, a debt collector should not contact you outside of 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m., should not contact you at work after you have asked not to, and should not call you. Suppose you ask him not to contact you by phone. Be sure to send all written requests to a debt collector in writing to enforce them. If you have a lawyer representing you, all communication should be with the lawyer and not with you.

Updates to the FDCPA will come into effect in fall 2021, changing the rules for how debt collectors can communicate with consumers. Specifically, they will be able to use text, email, and social media to contact people, but message recipients should be able to modify or delete these channels.


Mandating disclosures

The FDCPA specifies that debt collectors should always include waivers such as "This correspondence is an attempt to collect debts." Before the FDCPA, debt collectors did not always show an intention to communicate with debtors.

If a debt collection agency does not immediately state its purpose when communicating with a debtor, whether in writing or orally, it violates that person's federal civil rights.


Prohibition of threats

The FDCPA prohibits debt collection agencies from shouting, threatening, or using violence, blasphemy, misrepresenting their identity, or suggesting a possible arrest.

Debt collection agencies also cannot threaten legal action unless they intend to continue the process. Threatening to sue is a technique used by collection agencies to scare people off, but it is only allowed if legal action has already been taken.

For identity theft, this includes sending letters that appear to be official government correspondence. These agencies have historically intimidated consumers by pointing out that they have some form of authority to do things like send debtors to jail, which they cannot do. The FDCPA protects you from these harmful tactics.


The right to stop communicating

Under the terms of the FDCPA, consumers can formally request in writing that the debt collection agency cease and terminate their contract. If such a request is made, the collector is legally bound to comply with it.

The debtor remains free to use the legal system to collect unpaid debts and can inform the debtor of the steps he intends to take in this regard. Please note that the collector can always communicate with the debtor in writing, especially if he intends to pursue legal proceedings.


The right to validate the debt

The FDCPA specifies the consumer's right to request additional information about the debt. These procedures are called debt validation. It is vital to know that every consumer has the right to challenge the validity of any debt.

Therefore, a collector must respond differently; otherwise, collection activity must cease, and all consumer reports must be closed. Debt validation can become the primary tool in your arsenal in the face of aggressive debt collectives.

If a debt collector contacts you about a debt that you are not sure is due or that you believe has already been paid, it is the collection agency's duty to prove that you are, in fact, in debt and it is valid.


Protection of consumer privacy

The FDCPA also requires that debt collectors behave in a certain way when communicating with people other than the debtor. Debt collectors must identify themselves by name and employer, but they cannot disclose the reason for their appeal, they cannot discuss details of debts, or they cannot mention the amount they are trying to collect. However, they can ask family and friends how to contact you.

If a debt collector discloses the details of your debt to a coworker, friend, or family member, it is considered a serious breach of privacy. It is a violation of your rights to discuss your debts with another party, even if that person is your spouse or family. Without permission, a collection agency has no way of discussing your debts with you, or its details, with someone other than you.


Take advantage of consumer rights.

While debt collection agencies can be intimidating, you have rights under the FDCPA. You have the right to be treated with respect and to protect your privacy. You also have the power to validate any debt. 

The FDCPA exists for your protection, and you need to make sure that no company is breaking the law. If you feel your rights have been violated under the FDCPA, it's a good idea to contact a consumer protection lawyer in your area for help. You can also file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Keep track of all the interactions you have with debt collectors, just in case. Remember, you have rights as a consumer and you don't have to be alone in your financial difficulties.


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