Many times, clients come to my office because they are getting piles of letters and constant phone calls from debt collectors. The stress caused by the constant barrage of letters and phone calls can be severe. It is not unusual for some of these people to break down in tears in my office. In many instances, a smart choice to deal with this situation involves the filing of a bankruptcy petition to either eliminate or consolidate the debts which may be causing all the collection stress.
What Can Be Done?
Sometimes, prospective clients want to know if there is anything that can be done about the contacts from debt collectors other than filing a bankruptcy case. The answer is yes. There is a federal law known as the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (the “FDCPA”). This federal law is aimed at regulating the debt collection industry and contains requirements and limitations upon the actions that can be taken to collect a consumer debt. Note that I said “consumer” debt. Consumer debt is debt incurred for personal or household purposes. When debt collectors fail to meet the requirements of or exceed the limitations of the FDCPA, they can be held liable for these unlawful actions and you, the consumer, may be entitled to receive money damages for each violation. In other words, you get a check to compensate you for the violation of your rights.
The fact that you may owe the debt which the debt collector was unlawfully collecting upon is irrelevant. That’s because the FDCPA regulates the actions of the debt collector and is not addressed to the underlying debt itself. The law is written to protect consumers from debt collection harassment while providing a lawful way for debt collectors to try to collect legitimate debts. Those actions that constitute harassment under the FDCPA are broad and include, for example, calling a consumer at odd hours of the day or sending collection notices without the required disclosures.
Third Party Debt Collectors
An important distinction to be made is that the FDCPA applies only to third party debt collectors. Commonly, this is a company or perhaps a law firm that is in the business of collecting the debts of others. So, if your dentist sends you a bill or statement or calls you about your bill in that office, the FDCPA does not apply. However, if your dentist turns your account over to a collection agency and then the collection agency starts contacting you, then the FDCPA does apply. If that collection agency violates the law, you can collect damages from the collection agency for the violation.
If you think that you may be the victim of unlawful debt collection activity, your best option is to consult with an attorney who is knowledgeable in FDCPA law. This is not an area of the law that you or even a general practice attorney can successfully navigate. Further, the statute of limitations on FDCPA claims is shorter than many other types of claims, so procrastination can be a real enemy.
If You’re a Victim
If you think you may be the victim of unlawful debt collection harassment, here are some suggestions. First, if you are getting calls, answer the phone! Politely ask the caller to identify himself or herself and the company from which he or she is calling. Ask the caller to tell you why they are calling. Make note of the date and time of the call. Make note of what was said. Never ever be rude with the caller. If possible, have a trusted friend or family member listen in on the call. Don’t record a phone call without getting legal advice first. Keep track of this information so that you can discuss it with an experienced FDCPA attorney.
If you are getting letters, save them and the envelopes in which they came! Don’t write on the letters or the envelopes. If you get multiple letters, organize them by the identity of the collection agency. You will need these when discussing the matter with an experienced attorney. Our firm offers free consultations with persons who are being contacted by debt collectors. Our attorneys will review, for free, the letters being received to determine if any of these letters violate the FDCPA. If violations are found, our lawyers can pursue these cases for you.
So, if you are being unlawfully harassed by debt collectors (or you think that you may be), you have options. But don’t wait too long or you may miss the opportunity to pursue your claim. Get advice from an experienced FDCPA lawyer and stop being a victim!