Prohibited Debt Harassment

Prohibited Debt Harassment

A federal law known as the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act limits what debt collectors can do to harass you about debts.  In most states, like Florida, the state laws do not provide much protection against harassment.  However, the federal law applies to all debt collectors, including attorneys. The law applies only to “debt collectors.” This means that the person calling you is collecting the debt that you owe to someone else. If the XYZ Company calls you directly to collect their debt, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act does not apply to them. However, if the XYZ Company hires a debt collection agency to collect the debts, the law does apply to the debt collection agency.

Debt collector contacts

A debt collector may contact you over the telephone, by mail, in person, or by fax. The debt collector cannot call you at unreasonable times or places. Typically, this means that they should not call you before 8:00 a.m. in the morning or after 9:00 p.m. at night unless you agree to let them call you at those hours. A debt collector may call you at work unless you let them know that their employer disapproves of this. If you do get contacted at work, immediately notify the debt collector if your employer prohibits this.

Stopping debt collection contacts

You can request that the collector stop contacting you. You should do this by writing a letter to the debt collection agency in addition to telling them over the telephone. Be sure to keep a copy of the letter for your own records. When the debt collection agency receives the letter, they should not contact you again except to tell you if they are going to take specific action concerning the debt.

Debt collector contacts with other people

The debt collector may contact other people such as friends, relatives, or neighbors to find out information about where you live and work. Normally they can only contact these people once. In most cases, they are not allowed to tell these people about your debt, but only obtain information about your address and work. If an attorney represents you on this debt, notify the debt collector of your attorney’s name, address and phone number. The debt collector should then contact only the attorney.

What the debt collector must tell you

A debt collector may contact you initially by telephone. If they do, they are required to send you a written notice within five days telling you the amount of the debt you owe, the name of the creditor that you owe the money to, and what action you should take if you do not owe the money.

Disputing the debt

If you do not owe all or part of the money that is being collected, you can request that the debt collector verify the debt. For example, if you signed a loan agreement, you can request that they send you a copy of this document. If you dispute the debt, you should notify the debt collector in writing within 30 days after you are first contacted by the collection agency. You should write them a letter explaining why you do not owe the money and requesting that they verify the debt. During the 30-day period after you are first contacted, the collection agency should not contact you again until they provide you proof of the debt.

Prohibited Harassment

Debt collectors can call you and request that you pay the debt. However, they cannot harass you or abuse you. These are the types of things that they should not do:

  • Use obscene or profane language.
  • Make repeated frequent calls to annoy you.
  • Telephone you without identifying themselves.
  • Use threats of violence or harm against you.
  • Threaten to arrest you if you do not pay the debt.
  • Threaten to take action such as lawsuits, garnishments, or taking your property unless the collector intends to do so and it is legal. (Creditors must usually take you to court and get a court “judgment” against you before they are able to garnish your wages in Florida.)

Debt collectors cannot make false statements about themselves or the debts. They cannot misrepresent:

  • they are government officials;
  • that you have committed a crime;
  • that they work for the “credit bureau”;
  • that the papers you received are legal summonses or legal papers, if they are not;
  • the amount of your debt; or
  • that there is an attorney involved, if there is not.

Debt collectors are also prohibited from:

  • depositing a post-dated check before it is due;
  • threatening to take your property unless it is legal to do so;
  • contacting you by postcard.

Payments on multiple debts

If you owe more than one debt to the same collector, you can specify the debt you are paying. If you clearly indicate that you are paying one account, the debt collector should apply the payment to the account you request. You should always keep records of your payments and correspondence with any debt collector.

What if the debt collector has violated the law?

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act gives you a right to sue in state or federal court within one year from the violation. If you win, you can recover damages for your loss, court costs, and attorney’s fees. Remember that the one-year period runs from the date the debt collector violated the law. You should act promptly to contact an attorney if you believe a debt collector has violated the law. If you fail to file your suit within one year of the violation, you lose your right to do so. You can also notify the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of violations. They cannot file lawsuits on your behalf, but they can investigate your complaints. Their address is: Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, D.C. 20580. You can also file a complaint through the Internet.

What should I do to prove my claim?

You should always keep copies of everything that the debt collection agency sends you. Use a file folder or large envelope and keep all of your letters together. Always keep copies of everything that you send to them. When they call you, be sure to jot down notes of the exact words they used while talking to you on the telephone. Right after you hang up, write a summary of everything they told you, and what you told them. Note the date and time they called you. Be sure to write down their names and telephone numbers and the company they are with.

Get help

If you believe you have been harassed by any debt collector, you should contact an attorney for specific legal advice on your problem. If you are elderly, or have low income, please call Alliance Legal Group for further information or advice.