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. In fact, there is an entire section of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) that regulates debt collection calls to third parties.
On top of that, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) prohibits debt collectors from making unauthorized robocalls to calling you or your family and friends.
If a debt collector reveals your debt to a family member or friend, or if they call your family and friends repeatedly, you should contact a consumer rights attorney immediately, as you may have a claim under the FDCPA.
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 debt collector will rarely reveal the specific debt and dollar amount, but they sometimes mention “they owe money” or “they owe a debt.” Or they may say something along the lines of “I’m calling about their student loans” or a “personal financial matter.”
Using language like that could constitute revelation of the debt — which violates the law.
Debt collectors can only call a friend of family member 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 leave messages asking you to call them back
Debt collectors are allowed to contact third parties to obtain or confirm location information, but the FDCPA does not allow debt collectors to leave messages with third parties.
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. Even if the debt collector does not expressly say why they are calling, there is a good chance that if they leave a message, they will directly or indirectly reveal what they are about.
For example, if a debt collector leaves a message with a consumer’s co-worker or family member, they typically leave a message along the lines of “Jane Smith, ABC Recovery, 800-888-XXXX, extension 123.” The name of the company may reveal the company is a debt collector. In addition, when a consumer receives a message from a co-worker or family member, that person typically asks “do you know what they were calling about?”
Debt collectors cannot demand payment from family or friends
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.
Anyone harassed by a debt collector can bring a FDCPA claim
Innocent parties that are harassed by debt collectors about a debt of a friend, or co-worker, or family member, are protected under the FDCPA. Which means they can also pursue a claim against an abusive or harassing debt collector.
Generally, these cases involve situations where a person that does not owe a debt tells a collector to stop calling them, but the calls persist. Or sometimes a debt collector won’t believe the person answering the phone–and will attempt to collect a debt from the wrong person.
In the most severe cases, a debt collector may try to harass or abuse an individual that does not owe the debt with the hope that doing so will cause pressure for the correct consumer to call and make a payment.
Either way, if your a debt collector is calling your family or friends, or if you are receiving debt collection calls about a family member or friend, you should contact a consumer rights attorney immediately to understand your rights and options under the FDCPA.