In the current difficult economic downturn, with everyone stretched fairly thin, you may find yourself in a situation of having your name passed along to a bill collector, which can be a insidious thing in itself, but it can be especially taxing if the bill collector is harassing you in the process of trying to get their payment. It is extremely useful and helpful for consumers to know that there are protections under the law to keep these bill collectors from harassing you and the law requires them to follow certain rules in trying to collect payment.
The main defense a consumer has against harassing bill collection tactics is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”). It applies to any personal, family and household debt, which include credit cards, auto loans and your mortgage.
Under these rules, a bill collector must follow certain guidelines in collecting payment. First and foremost, a bill collector cannot contact you at inconvenient times and places, such as before 8 in the morning or after 9 at night. They also cannot contact you at work if they are notified that you are not allowed to be contacted there. Additionally, a debt collector is not generally allowed to contact third parties about your debt aside from trying to obtain location information about you.
If a debt collector is harassing you, you generally must request, in writing, that they stop contacting you. You should make a copy of the letter you send and send it certified mail. Generally, once the collector has received the request, they must stop contacting you. They can still sue you to collect the debt in court if you properly owe the debt, they just generally would not be able to contact you to collect it.
Additionally, if you do not properly owe the debt, you should submit in writing to the collector that you do not owe the debt, and once they receive that letter they would not be able to contact you any further regarding the debt. However, if they receive notice that the debt is properly due from you (ie. they receive proof of the debt, such as a bill) they can resume contacting you.
Debt collectors under the FDCPA are prohibited from:
– Harassment, including threats.
– False statements and misrepresentations regarding the debt, its validity or consequences.
– Unfair practices.
If you think a bill collector has violated the FDCPA you can sue them in Federal or State court to recover damages due to their harassment. Additionally, short of taking the collector to court, you can report any issues you have with a collector to your State’s Attorney General’s Office (www.naag.org) or to the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov).
If you are having issues with a collector, there are remedies available under the law to protect you from harassment. It is very important to remember that bill collectors do not have a free license to do what they want, no matter whether your debt is properly owed or not. They have rules they have to follow in collecting the debt, and to the extent they go to far, the law is there in place to protect you from their harassing activity.