Getting into a financial mess can be stressful. One thing is true for financial hardships, it has a way of telling on every aspect of your life. Whether you are in a bad financial place as a result of student loans, mortgage, service bills that are past due, or you are drowning in credit card debt, it is only a matter of time before the creditors start to demand payment and you will need to see a consumer lawyer.
First the occasional phone calls, then the more frequent attempts by the debt collection officers. All these can put you under a significant amount of stress. In several cases, personal bankruptcies have been linked to the activities of debt collectors and other cases, debt collection efforts may lead to job loss, marital instabilities, and invasion of privacy.
While the persistence of debt collectors seeking repayment of loans is legal, the harassment which you may suffer as a result of their actions isn’t. Because the Federal Trade Commission frowns heavily upon harassment as part of the debt collection practice, more debt collection officers obey the law. However, even with the most law-abiding debt collection officer, you may experience some form of harassment and in cases like this, you may be able to seek help from the law.
Seeking Redress Under The Fair Debt Collection Practice Act
The Federal Trade Commission will not support the harassment of a debtor by a debt collection officer. To further enforce this stand, the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act (FDCPA) was created. The Act was created with the purpose of enforcing the stand of the law against harassment during the debt collection and recovery process.
The Fair Debt Collector Practice Act prohibits debt collection officers staffed by a third-party collection agency from carrying out activities that can be considered or regarded as harassment. However, the provisions of this act do not cover the acts which are perpetrated by the employees of the original creditors.
While the Act does not extend across to the employees of the creditor but only to third party agencies in most states, California has put in place laws that dictate what the original creditors can or cannot do.
Before seeking legal help on harassment cases during debt collection attempts, it is recommended that you should first consult with the laws in your state.
What Debt Collectors Are Required To Do According To The Act
Under the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act (FDCPA), debt collectors are required to:
- Clearly identify themselves and the entity they represent during communication with debtors.
- Inform the consumer or debtor of their intent which is regarding the debts owed. Also, the collection officers are required to state that any information that has been obtained during communication can be used against the debtor or consumer.
- Provide the consumer with the address and name of the creditor.
- Inform the consumer of their rights to file a dispute to discredit the debt. A debtor who wishes to dispute is required to provide a notice of dispute within 5 days of interaction between the collection officer and the customer. The creditor will also be required to report disputed debts of any kind to the credit bureau. Consumers may proceed to verbally dispute the debt after 30 days but doing this means the consumer has consented to the waiver of their consumer’s right to demand the debt collector present a verification of what is owed. When verifying, the document should contain details like the address and name of the original creditor and the amount owed.
- The debt collector may have grounds for a proper lawsuit and in such cases like this, he or she is advised to file the lawsuit in a proper venue. Lawsuits may only be filed in the location of the consumer or where the debtor had signed an agreement with the debt collector.
What Debt Collectors Are Prohibited From
According to the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act (FDCPA), debt collectors are prohibited from engaging in the following acts:
- Calling the consumer at an unreasonable hour. The FDCPA stipulates that debt collection calls can be placed within 8:00 AM and 9:00 PM in the consumer’s local timezone.
- Failure to desist communication after a formal request has been entered is also frowned upon by the FDCPA. The debt collector is expected to halt his or her efforts at recovering the debt owed once a formal letter or notice indicating that the consumer is refusing to service the debt or a letter that requests that all communications be ceased has been forwarded. Following such a letter or notice from the consumer, the debt collector is only allowed to communicate the termination of the debt collection efforts while indicating that the debt collector is pursuing other channels to seek redress of the matter.
- Repeat and continuous calls being placed by the debt collector to the consumer are also prohibited as such actions are aimed at abusing, annoying, and harassing the consumer all of which are prohibited.
- Further communication with the consumer after they have filed for bankruptcy is also frowned upon by the FDCPA. Once the debt collector has been notified of the consumer’s file for bankruptcy, they are expected to cease all contact with the consumer.
- Debt collectors may not approach consumers at their workplace as in most cases such an act is prohibited by most employers. Once a debt collection officer has been advised against this act, he or she may not continue to communicate or approach the consumer in such an establishment.
- A debt collector is also prohibited from further communication with a consumer after he or she may have secured the services of an attorney. When the debt collector becomes aware of the attorney’s services, all contacts with the consumer should cease.
- Debt collectors are also prohibited from further communication with consumers after he or she has requested for validation.
- A debt collector is prohibited from misrepresenting, misleading or deceiving the consumer into the payment of the debt owed.
- A debt collector is also prohibited from threatening the consumer with arrests or legal actions.
- Debt collectors are prohibited from using profane or abusive language
- A debt collection officer may not communicate the details of the consumer with third parties except the consumer’s attorneys and spouse.
- A debt collection officer may not contact or communicate with the consumer using media that may constitute an embarrassment to their person.
Steps After You Have Been Harassed by a Debt Collector
If you have been harassed by a debt collector, the first line of action is to send a letter to the debt collector informing them to cease further contact and harassment. As contained in the FDCPA, the debt collector is expected to honor this request and desist from contacting you. However, it is important to note that unless you wish to dispute the claim or file for bankruptcy, the situation will only grow worse.
In the time being, you can choose to record all the harassment you suffer following the letter. To establish proof of harassment, it is recommended that you have a separate entity in attendance who can testify to witnessing you get harassed by the collection officers. You may also record all telephone discussions with the collection officer without informing them of your actions.
After gathering the needed evidence, file a complaint which is to be submitted to the Federal Trade Commission and be sure to include your complaints and other details including the name of the collection agency, address, the name of the original creditor, details of communications, types of communications and others.