Debt collectors are strictly regulated in how they collect debts from consumers. One common consumer complaint is that a debt collector is contacting a consumer’s place of work, family, or friends, in an attempt to collect a debt.
If debt collectors have contacted someone else about your debt, here is what you need to know about your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
Debt collectors can only acquire location information
Location information is defined as a consumer’s home address and home phone number or workplace and workplace address. A debt collector must identify themselves, but should only reveal their employer (the name of the debt collector) if a third-party asks for the information.
In other words, if a debt collector already knows how to contact a consumer (they have location information), then there is no reason to call a family member, friend, or co-worker. The collector cannot ask the third-party to pass on a message, ask for other information, or harass the third-party. It is not uncommon for a debt collector to leave a message at consumer’s workplace, or with a family member or friend. The FDCPA, however, does not allow debt collectors to leave messages with third parties.
In fact, third-parties have standing to bring claims under the FDCPA if they are harassed. That means a person who has been harassed—regardless of whether the debt is theirs—can bring a claim under the FDCPA.
Debt collectors can only call third-parties once
A debt collector is not allowed to contact a third-party more than once unless requested to do so by the third party. In other words, if a debt collector calls a consumer’s parents, or sister, or co-worker, they cannot call again unless that person asks them to call them again. There’s a pretty slim chance of that happening.
If a debt collector has called someone else about your debt, ask that person how many times the debt collector called. There’s a decent chance it happened more than once.
Debt collectors cannot reveal a consumer’s debt to a third-party
If a debt collector contacts a third party, they cannot reveal the consumers debt. Congress was specifically concerned with debt collectors harassing other people to pressure a consumer to repay a debt.
In reality, revelation of the debt happens often. A collector may not reveal the specific debt and dollar amount, but they sometimes mention “they owe money” or “they owe a debt.” That is not allowed under the FDCPA.
Debt collectors cannot demand payment from family or friends
There is common theme here: if a debt collector is calling your family or friends, they are strictly regulated in what they can and cannot say.
It is illegal for a debt collector to try and collect a debt from a family member or friend that does not owe the debt. For example, if a spouse incurs a credit card debt, the other spouse is generally not responsible unless they were a co-signer on the debt. I have represented more than one consumer who was being asked to pay a bill for their spouse (or ex-spouse) that the consumer was not liable for.
In other situations, a debt collector may simply imply that a family member or friend is responsible, without expressly asking for a payment. They may something like “is there any way you could help them out?” or “have you helped them with their bills in the past?” Questions like that may lead a family member or friend to believe they are liable for the debt–and that is illegal and in violation of the FDCPA.
Debt collector contacts to third parties are a frequent source of FDCPA violations. Although debt collectors are tightly regulated in what they can say, they frequently stray from the script. If you think your rights have been violated, please contact me.