Who Can be Contacted by A Debt Collector?
There are strict rules on who a debt collector may contact about your debts. A debt collector may contact other people to obtain your home address, phone number, or place of work. A debt collector is generally barred from discussing the details of your debt with anybody else. Further, it is a general rule that a debt collector cannot contact that other person more than once. Ostensibly, this is because the purpose is to get personal information about you, and only one call is necessary to get that information or be told that the person does not have that information.
If you are represented by an attorney, the debt collector must contact your attorney and not you. Further, the debt collector is only allowed to discuss the details of a debt with your attorney, your spouse, or you personally.
Time, Method, and Place of Debt Collection Attempts
The FDCPA restricts debt collectors from calling you any time before 8 A.M., and any time after 9 P.M. (unless you have previously authorized them to do so). Further, they cannot call you at work, provided you have informed them that you cannot receive calls at work. Under the FDCPA, a debt collector can attempt to communicate with you through any means (short of physically showing up), provided they inform you that they are debt collectors. If a debt collector pretends to be someone else, they have violated the FDCPA.
It is a good idea to talk to a debt collector the first time they contact you to determine if the debt is legitimate; sometimes debt collectors have the wrong number, or the debt is simply invalid. You can also set up a payment plan if you are so inclined. After you have spoken to the debt collector, assuming you don’t want them to contact you anymore, you should inform them of that in writing.
To properly inform a debt collector to stop pursuing you, you should send a letter by certified mail, and purchase a return receipt so that you know when the letter has been received. Once the letter has been received, a creditor may only contact you for two reasons: (1) to inform you they received the letter, and will no longer be contacting you, or (2) to inform you that they are taking a specific action regarding the debt (i.e. filing a lawsuit). It is important to note that preventing a debt collector from contacting you doesn’t erase the debt, it simply means they can’t talk to you about collecting it.
Conduct that is Specifically Prohibited
There are an unlimited number of ways a debt collector may violate the FDCPA, but they generally fall into 1 of 5 groups: (1) Harassment, (2) False Statements, (3) Specific Statements, (4) Specific Conduct; and (5) Unfair Practices.
The FDCPA prohibits people attempting to collect a debt from harassing, oppressing, or abusing you and third parties they contact about the debt. Examples of this include: (1) Threats of harm and/or violence, (2) Public humiliation by publishing a list of individuals who have not paid them, (3) swearing at the consumer, (4) using obscene language with the consumer; and (5) calling the borrower over and over to annoy them.
The FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from lying to borrowers to collect a debt. This includes conduct such as: (1) Claiming that the debt collector is an attorney or an employee of the government, (2) Claiming that by not paying a debt, the borrower has committed a crime, (3) Claiming that they work for a credit reporting company, (4) Claiming that documents they sent the borrower were legal in nature when they aren’t; and (5) Claiming that documents they sent the borrower are not legal in nature when they are.
There are specific statements that the Courts have found to be a violation of the FDCPA. Some of these statements include: (1) That the borrower will be arrested if they don’t pay the debt, (2) That the debt collector will attach the debt to the borrower’s property interests; and (3) That the debt collector will take legal action against you when they don’t have the capacity to do so or they don’t intend to do so.
The Courts have also found specific conduct to violate the FDCPA. Some of that conduct includes: (1) Giving false credit information about the borrower to anyone, including the credit reporting companies, (2) Send the borrower a document that is intended to look like an official government document when it isn’t; and (3) Using a fake company name when speaking to you.
The FDCPA also prohibits debt collectors from utilizing unfair practices when they attempt to collect debts from borrowers. These practices include: (1) Charging more than the actual debt in the form of a fee or interest, (2) Depositing a check that was post-date prior to the date on the check, (3) Threaten to take, or take, property belonging to the borrower when it would be illegal to do so; and (4) Contact the borrower through a postcard.
What is Immune from Being Targeted for Garnishment?
Most benefits, which are provided by the federal government, are immune to garnishment attempts. These include: (1) The borrower’s Social Security Benefits, (2) The borrower’s Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) Benefits, (3) The borrower’s Veteran’s Benefits; and (4) Military Annuities and Survivor’s Benefits. This is not an exhaustive list, but if it is a federal benefit, it is unlikely that a debt collector can garnish those benefits.
If you, or someone you know, has had their rights violated under the FDCPA, we urge you to contact us today for a free initial consultation.