Consumers are protected against unfair, deceptive, and abusive debt collectors under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
The FDCPA was enacted in response to eliminate abusive practices in the collection of consumer debts. The FDCPA provides both broad and specific protections for consumers against debt collectors.
How the FDCPA protects consumers against debt collectors
In general, debt collectors are prohibited from doing anything unfair, deceptive, or abusive in their debt collection attempts.
The FDCPA reflects this, as it contains a number of general provisions, such as
- Harassment or abuse – prohibits any conduct that has the natural consequence of harassing, oppressing, or abusing any person in connection with the collection of a debt
- False or misleading representations – prohibits any false, deceptive, or misleading representation in connection with collection of any debt
- Unfair practices – prohibits any unfair or unconscionable means to collect or attempt to collect a debt
Common abusive debt collection attempts include:
- Excessive phone calls or calls at inconvenient times, including calling a consumer at work
- Calling a consumer’s family and friends and potentially revealing the alleged debt
- Threatening to take actions that they cannot take, or do not intend to take, including threats to sue on a time-barred debt
- Collecting on a debt that a consumer does not owe
- Collecting on a debt that has been discharged in bankruptcy
- Calling a consumer names, insulting a consumer, yelling at a consumer, or hanging up on a consumer
- Using profane or other abusive language or swearing at a consumer
- Excessive phone calls using a autodialer or robodialer
This list is not exhaustive—there are plenty of other ways debt collectors violate the FDCPA. If you think your rights have been violated, feel free to contact me.
How abusive debt collection affects consumers
Congress enacted the FDCPA to prevent abusive debt collectors and unfair debt collection. Congress recognized that abusive debt collection contributes to:
- The number of personal bankruptcies;
- Marital instability;
- The loss of jobs; and
- Invasions of individual privacy.
For many consumers, they may experience one or more of these factors as a result of unfair or abusive debt collection. When a consumer’s alleged debt is revealed to a friend, family member, or co-worker, it can cause stress and embarrassment.
What you are entitled to under the FDCPA
The good news is that if you have a claim under the FDCPA, and if you are successful, the debt collectors pay your attorney fees. This fee-shifting provision allow consumer lawyers like myself to essentially act as private regulators of debt collection conduct.
Under the FDPCA, you are entitled to four benefits:
- Costs in pursuit of a lawsuit
- Reasonable attorney fees
- Statutory damages up to $1,000
- Actual damages
What that means is if you have a case and you prevail, the other side pays your attorney fees and costs, which is how consumer lawyers are able to bring these cases on full contingency. You are also entitled to up to $1,000 in statutory damages and actual damages.
Actual damages can be charges to your phone line caused by a debt collector’s calls. If you are harassed or abused by a debt collector, you may be entitled to recover damages for your emotional distress.
For example, if a debt collector uses insulting language towards a consumer, or if a debt collector reveals a consumer’s debt to a third-party like a co-worked or family member. In some situations, the effects of abusive debt collection can cause a consumer to seek medical help for the emotional distress.
How to protect yourself against abusive debt collection
Rule 1: be smart. If a debt collector tries to collect money on a debt you have never heard of (or a debt you are unsure of), do your due diligence before making any payment arrangements. There are lots of consumer scams, and that includes attempts to collect on invalid debts. Even worse, debts that have already been paid.
Rule 2: document your communications. If you receive collection letters, keep them. If you are receiving voicemails, save them. If you are receiving debt collection phone calls, take notes during the phone calls. It’s also a good idea to take pictures of your phone to document the phone calls. Missed calls rarely (if ever) show up on cellphone bills.
Rule 3: let the harassment be a one-way street. If a debt collector says something that offends you, or you feel harassed, contact a consumer rights attorney, like me. While it may feel good to turn the harassment back on the debt collector, that can have potential negative ramifications if you have a claim.
If you have been harassed by a debt collector, or if you have questions about communications with a debt collector, contact me.