THE 6 THINGS DEBT COLLECTION AGENCIES CANNOT DO TO YOU
Summary: Every year, the Federal Trade Commission receives more complaints about debt collectors than any other industry, even though the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) has been in place to curb abusive and unethical behavior since 1977.
Every year, the Federal Trade Commission receives more complaints about debt collectors than any other industry, even though the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) has been in place to curb abusive and unethical behavior since 1977. Some third-party collection agencies bank on the likelihood that the consumer they are harassing is unaware of the law, while others simply don’t care.
As a consumer, it’s important for you to know that collecting debts is legal, but using abusive, unfair, and deceptive means to do so is not. Below is a list of six actions that collection agencies cannot take when trying to collect money from you. If they do, they risk financial penalties and even loss of their license.
- Calling You at Unreasonable Hours
Debt collectors may not call you outside of the hours of 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. without your permission. This means 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. in your timezone, even if the collection agency operates in a state that’s three hours behind. If they call you at 9:00 a.m. local time and the phone disrupts your sleep at 6:00 a.m., they may have violated the FDCPA.
- Using Profane and Obscene Language
When a debt collector communicates with you, cursing, yelling, and making threats are all strictly forbidden. Even leaving threatening messages on your voicemail is illegal. If you are verbally abused on a regular basis, Oklahoma is a one-party state, meaning that you can record the call without the collector’s consent (as long as you are not doing so to commit a criminal act) for later use in a lawsuit.
- Saying They’ll Have You Arrested
The FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from falsely claiming that by failing to pay a debt, you have committed a crime and can be arrested. Collection agencies cannot have you thrown in jail, and simply failing or refusing to pay a medical debt or credit card bill is not enough to compel your arrest.
- Discussing Your Debt With Uninvolved Third Parties
No matter what they tell you, debt collectors are not allowed to discuss your debt with anyone other than you, your spouse, or your attorney. They may contact third parties to track you down, but are limited to confirming your phone number, address, and workplace, and they may generally only contact these people once. If a debt collector tries to embarrass you into paying by telling your friends, neighbors, and coworkers that you owe money, they may be breaking the law.
- Calling You at Work in Violation of Workplace Policy
Many workplaces do not allow their employees to take personal calls during working hours. Much as a debt collector might try to convince you otherwise, collection communications are personal. If you tell them that your boss doesn’t allow you to take such calls and they keep calling you at work regardless, they may be violating the FDCPA.
- Failing or Refusing to Validate the Debt
Within five days of first contacting you (whether by phone or letter), a collection agency is legally obligated to send you a debt validation letter. This notice states how much you allegedly owe, to whom, and how to pay it. Some companies don’t send it without prompting, so be sure to ask for this information immediately. If they fail or refuse to send this information, your next step should be contacting a consumer protection attorney.
The FDCPA in Action
Last January, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau took action against Works & Lentz Inc. and Works & Lentz of Tulsa Inc., a medical debt collection operation with offices in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Consumers had been complaining that:
- Representatives from both companies claimed to be attorneys when calling and sending letters when in fact no attorney had reviewed the accounts
- Inaccurate information was being submitted to credit reporting companies
Although neither the companies nor their president admitted to wrongdoing, a consent decree with the CFPB called for them to pay a civil penalty of $78,000 and over $577,000 in consumer refunds. This is a strong reminder that consumers have rights under both state and federal law, and regulators come down hard on collection agencies that violate them.
Don’t let a debt collector abuse you or intimidate you. If you’re dealing with an especially aggressive agency, contact Attorney David Sisson for a no-obligation consultation today. He will protect your rights and advise you on legal remedies that could put a rogue collector in debt to you instead.
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