That law is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act*, a statute passed by Congress in 1978 that sets out guidelines governing what bill collectors can, and can’t do in the pursuit of debt collection. Under The Act, a collection agency is prohibited from contacting a debtor at his or her place of employment if requested not to do so. Collection notices in the mail are not to be posted in envelopes that make obvious, undue references to the fact a debt is owed. Bill collectors are also prohibited from misrepresenting themselves as an attorney, threatening consumers with legal action or seizure of property, or garnish wages in the absence of a court order. Within five days of any initial contact, a debt collector is required to issue a validation notice confirming the amount of debt owed.
Under The Act, a bill collector must stop all collection efforts and any instances of debt collector harassment at the verbal request of a debtor, or upon receipt of a written request, until the collection agency can conclusively verify the debt or provide a copy of any judgment against the consumer.
“People also don’t know that if they contact an attorney,the law says that bill collectors have to stop contacting you because you are represented by an attorney,” Stewart says. "Under the law, when that happens, all contact shifts to the attorney. And it won’t cost you a thing to do that,” Stewart said in comments to LawyersandSettlements.com.
“If you hire me because the debt collector is harassing you in violation of a federal statute, then upon success of the debt collector lawsuit, my fees are paid by the debt collector, and the client who was harassed is entitled to receive money from the debt collector,” explains Stewart.
The art of debt collection, and the increased incidence of bill collector harassment--debt collectors are the number one subject of consumer complaints to the Federal Trade Commission**--is partially explained by an increase in the number of collection agencies and the practice of buying, and selling accounts amongst collection agencies. As an account is transferred from one agency to another, information often gets watered down or distorted**. Many consumers having filed a debt collector lawsuit cite collection attempts and harassment for debts they don’t even owe, or have long since been repaid.
“They are definitely becoming more aggressive because of the age of personal electronics,” says Stewart, in comments to LawyersandSettlements.com.
“You are more accessible to them than you used to be. They e-mail you, they ‘US mail’ you, they can call you on your cell phone. The Internet makes it easier for them to find you at work and contact your employer. Then there are just more people having trouble paying their bills and there are more debt collectors out there.”
In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) logged no fewer than 199,721 complaints *** to the Consumer Sentinel Network, a clearing house of sorts under the auspices of the FTC and accessible to consumers. According to their report, debt collection complaints represented 10 percent of all complaints logged by the Sentinel system, and was second only to identity theft out of 30 complaint categories.
“The law is there to protect you but you must invoke it by hiring an attorney,” says Stewart. “You have the right to file a complaint with the FTC about bill collector harassment, but that does not stop them from harassing you or get you compensation for turning them in. “Don’t let them get away with these kinds of things,” continues Stewart. “You don’t have to and it may pay you to turn nasty bill collectors in for their bad behavior.”
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), http://www.federalreserve.gov/boarddocs/supmanual/cch/fairdebt.pdf , (15 USC 1692 et seq., March 1978)
**ABCNews, "Don't Ignore Debt Collectors -- But Don't Pay Them, Either (If You Don't Owe)", August 12, 2013, http://abcnews.go.com/Business/ignore-debt-buyers-pay-owe/story?id=19920637
*** Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, http://www.ftc.gov/sentinel/reports/sentinel-annual-reports/sentinel-cy2012.pdf, January to December, 2012
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