Consumer protection laws exist to protect individuals from unethical business practices. Collection agencies must not only adhere to standard business laws but also to a special set of rules specifically for the collection industry. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) was put into place in 1977 to regulate collection activity in the U.S. If you or someone you love is being hounded by a collection agency over an unpaid debt, its important to familiarize yourself with the FDCPA to recognize when a debt collector is breaking the law.

Abusive Debt Collection Methods

The FDCPA prohibits collection agents from engaging in any debt collection methods that could be considered abusive or that constitute harassment. A debt collector may not:

  • Telephone you at any time other than between the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. in your local time zone.
  • Threaten to harm you or any member of your family or damage your personal property.
  • Threaten to file a lawsuit against you unless the company actually intends to do so.
  • Threaten to take your home or seize any personal property in lieu of payment.
  • Telephone you repeatedly over a short period of time. Causing the telephone to ring incessantly is a form of harassment.
  • Calling you at work if you inform the debt collector that doing so is an inconvenience or threatens your job security.

Communication Restrictions for Collection Agencies

A debt collector can call you and send you written demands, but you have the right to demand, in writing, that the company immediately cease all communication with you. Should you do so, the FDCPA states that a collection agency may not contact you again unless it is to inform you that either your letter was received and you will not receive further communication in reference to the debt or the collection agency intends to take legal action against you.

Although the FDCPA allows debt collectors to contact your friends and family members in an effort to locate you, it restricts a collection agency to contacting a third party only once. If your loved one informs the collection agency that he or she is not aware of your location, the company is prohibited from calling that individual again. In addition, a collection agency may not discuss the debt with anyone other than you.

Legal Recourse After FDCPA Violations

If you believe you’ve been the victim of abusive debt collection methods, you may have the right to sue the offending collection agency. Provided you have proof that an actual FDCPA violation occurred and you file your lawsuit within one year of the violation, you can seek damages of up to $1000. You may also sue the company for any financial losses you suffered as a result of the violation. If, for example, a debt collector calling you at work incessantly after you requested that the calls stop resulted in you losing your job, you may sue the company for lost wages.

Collection agencies purchase debts after the original creditor has long since given up on ever collecting. The older a debt is, the less likely a consumer is to pay it. Because of this,  debt collectors often pursue individuals aggressively and violate the law while doing so. Recognizing illegal collection activity when you see it is a crucial part of protecting yourself from debt collector harassment.