Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (also known as the FDCPA) is a US Statute added in 1978 with later amendments, which protects consumers from unscrupulous debt collection agencies or methods. It also gives consumers a way of challenging inaccurate information that may be held against them.
This article gives a summary of the provisions as we understand them, but it is not exhaustive (it does not include all of the details) and its accuracy is not guaranteed.
What It Covers
The FDCPA regulates debt collectors, who are defined as “any person who uses any instrumentality of interstate commerce or the mails in any business the principal purpose of which is the collection of any debts, or who regularly collects or attempts to collect, directly or indirectly, debts owed or due or asserted to be owed or due another.”
This means that it covers the situation where a debt collection agency is contacting you for payment of a debt that you owe to another institution such as a bank. If the bank is collecting the debt itself, the FDCPA does not apply, although some states have laws that regulate institutions that collect their own debts in the same way.
What Debt Collectors Must Do
– Every time they contact you, they must tell you who they are and that they are a debt collector.
– They must notify you of your right to dispute the debt. This notice is called a 1692g Notice.
– If you ask in writing within 30 days of receiving this notice, they must tell you who the original creditor was (the name and address of the company or institution that you owed the money to). They must also produce proof of the debt if you request it within this 30 day period.
– If they file a lawsuit, it must be in the place where you live or where you signed the contract that incurred the debt. So if you used to live in New York and you got into this debt while you lived there, but now you have moved to Washington, the debt collector can file a lawsuit either in New York or in Washington. Nowhere else.
What Debt Collectors Are Not Allowed To Do
– They must not phone you after 9 pm or before 8 am (your time zone).
– They must not continue to contact you if you give them written notice that you do not want further contact or that you refuse to pay the alleged debt; except that they can still tell you certain things, e.g. that they plan to file a lawsuit or that they are writing off the debt.
– They must not harass you by telephone, e.g. constantly ringing you.
– They must not contact you at your place of work after you ask them not to in writing.
– They must not go on contacting you after you give them details of an attorney who is representing you, they must contact your attorney instead.
– If you ask them for verification of the debt within 30 days of the 1692g Notice, they must not contact you until after they have sent you the verification.
– They must not engage in misrepresentation or deceit; e.g. they must not lie about how much you owe, or claim to be attorneys when they are not. They must not demand extra unjustified amounts above what you owe.
– They must not publish your name and address on a bad debt list.
– They must not threaten you with arrest or legal action unless these things are genuinely possible and planned.
– They must not use abusive or profane language.
– They must not reveal or discuss your debt with anybody who is not involved, except your spouse or your attorney, and they must not threaten to do this (e.g. they must not threaten to tell your employer).
– They must not contact you in way that reveals your debt to others, e.g. putting details on a postcard, or sending a letter in an envelope that is marked as being from a debt collection agency.
– They must not put false information on your credit report, or threaten to do so.
If you have been subjected to practices which are against the terms of the act you can report the collection agency to the Federal Trade Commission. You can also sue the collection agency, but it would not be worth while for most people to do this. That is why the Federal Trade Commission takes the role of enforcing the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.