It is not uncommon for an individual to have a legitimate debt that he or she cannot pay, and certainly the creditor has a right to make reasonable efforts to collect that debt. Too often, however, debt collectors cross legal lines in the manner in which they operate their business.
The Fair Debt and Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)
The FDCPA is federal law that establishes:
- Who can collect debt
- How debt may be collected
- The debtors rights
Most people are fearful of debt collectors and are unaware of their rights, which is exactly what the unscrupulous debt collector preys upon. Tactics the FDCPA specifically prohibits include:
- Calling early in the morning and late at night; without permission, it is illegal to make contact before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m.
- Contacting friends and family is only permissible to determine where the debtor resides
- Harassing the debtor is illegal; specific acts include threats, improper language and public disclosure of private information
The FDCPA also makes illegal the attempt to collect on debts previously discharged in bankruptcy, threatening to take legal action against the debtor and leaving a message for the debtor without identifying his or her company and the purpose of the call.
A debtor has the right to sue a debt collector for violations of the FDCPA. If the debtor can prove damages such as lost wages or medical bills due to the violations, damages may be recovered, but the underlying debt will not be discharged.