Everyone understands that a debt collector is not allowed to use profanity or threaten you with an unintended lawsuit or even tell you that you will go to jail if you do not pay the debt that you owe. In case you forgot, debtor’s prison was abolished in the mid 19th century. However, it is important for consumers to understand the rights afforded to individuals facing collection activity under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), and, to understand those rights, you need to know how the law requires certain acts from the collectors themselves. Here are some examples of the most common types of harassment techniques used by collectors today:
1) The mini Miranda: Everyone has seen the police shows in which the arresting officer states something to the effect of: “You have the right to remain silent…” Everyone understands that if you ever get arrested and you are not read your rights, it works like a “Get out of Jail Free Card.” But did you know that the debt collectors have to disclaim certain information every time they call you as well? That’s right. Every time a debt collector calls you they need to tell you the name of the company they are calling from and that they are collecting a debt.
Now this disclosure can come in many forms. The most common disclosure goes something like:
“This is call for John Smith. If you are not John Smith please hang up the phone. There will now be a 3 second pause so that if you are not John Smith you will not listen to this message…John Smith this is ACME DEBT COLLECTORS. This call is an attempt to collect a debt. Any information obtained will be used to collect that debt…”
Of course, the disclosure does not have to be this formal and there are different versions of compliant messages for you to listen to on our Voicemail Examples Page. But it is important for you to know that, no matter how nice the person calling you sounds, if the debt collector does not tell you both the name of the company and that he is collecting a debt, they have broken the law and YOU ARE ENTITLED TO RESTITUTION.
2) The second most common harassment complaint experienced by our clients is excessive phone calls. Consumers are confused all the time by what constitutes a harassing number of phone calls, and, when looking for an exact number, any good attorney will tell you that it depends. Different jurisdictions measure the level of harassment differently. Compiled with the fact that collectors collect differently and most cost consumers do not keep track of the calls they are receiving, collection phone calls can seem a tricky matter. And, although, there is no exact number to give you, there are some things you should be looking for, including:
• Are you receiving more than 2 calls per day – This is a good place to start, if you are receiving more than 2 calls per day from the same debt collection company for at least 7 consecutive days, this may constitute harassment.
• Have you received days in which it has seemed like a debt collection company has called you a lot (like more than 5 times) in just one day – This too may be enough for you to have a claim against the debt collection company for harassment.
The most important thing to remember when trying to figure out if you have received a harassing amount of phone calls is, you do not have to know. Simply keep a call log (you will find one on the Excessive Calls Page). Many times the debt collectors will use different phone numbers every time they call you so that you will not realize that they are harassing you.
You do not need to know who is calling you, where the phone number is from or if the amount of calls is legal. Simply keep a call log. Once the call log is complete, you can send into our company. We will review the call log and talk with you about it. If it is an excessive amount of calls, you can talk with an attorney, free of charge, about the harassment, and, even if it is not an excessive amount, we will talk with you about it and help you continue to track the calls.
3) Another common type of harassment consumers experience is debt collection phone calls at work. This is a very easy harassment to classify and stop. If you receive a phone call at work from a third party debt collector you need to simply tell them: “I cannot receive calls at work. Please do not call me here again.” That’s it. If they call you again at work, the call violates your rights under the FDCPA. Collectors are not allowed to call you at work after they have been made aware that you cannot receive calls at work.
4) Third Party disclosure is probably the most commonly misunderstood violation experienced by consumers. Here are some guidelines to help you understand your rights when a debt collector calls your friends or family and help you recognize when your rights have been violated.
• Collectors can only call a third party to obtain locator information. Locator information is your phone number or address. That’s it.
• Collectors are not allowed to make any reference to the fact that you owe them money. If you remember the example message in #1, the compliant message states: “…There will now be a 3 second pause so that if you are not John Smith you will not listen to this message…” The reason for this part of the message is because they are not allowed to inform anyone other than yourself (and your spouse) about your debt. This includes your adult children, neighbors, parents, etc.
• So, if your neighbor, grandma, ex-boyfriend or dentist tells you that they have been contacted by a collection agency, find out what they said. If the name of the company was ACME DEBT COLLECTORS and the debt collector stated that he was calling with Debt Collectors, that is a violation of your rights. Debt Collectors are only allowed to state that the call is related to personal business and that they are looking for your contact information.
• If a collector does inform someone other than yourself that you owe them money or that you have not paid your bills or that the call is an attempt to collect debt, your rights may have been violated. Proof of this violation is as simple as a letter from the person they spoke with detailing the conversation.
This page is meant to be used as a non-legalistic approach to helping you understand your rights and how best to protect those rights. If you would like to learn more about the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, you will find the Federal Trade Commission’s page here: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre18.shtm. The most important thing to remember when dealing with debt collectors is that you have rights. Even though you owe the money, you do not deserve to be harassed. Be diligent. Save your voicemails, keep call logs and use Legal Affiliates as a resource to help you stop the harassment and end this cycle of abuse.