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Debt Collectors

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act was was instituted by the federal government to promote fair treatment of consumers by prohibiting debt collectors from using unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices.

This act applies to all debt collectors, even professional debt collection agencies who collect on loans, credit card debt, or other credit obligations that they did not originate. No reputable lender or institution is allowed to use unfair debt collection practices.

If you owe money for any reason, a debt collector has the right to contact you if you fall behind on your payment obligations, but regardless of the situation, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires that debt collectors treat you fairly and prohibits certain methods of debt collection. This does not mean that you are not responsible for the debt.

A debt collector may contact you in any one of several ways, in person, by telephone, fax, email, telegram, or regular mail, however, there are certain times of day that creditors are prohibited from calling you, such as before 8:00 a.m. and after 9:00 p.m., unless you agree that you can be contacted before or after those hours.

If you have an attorney, debt collectors must contact the attorney instead of you. They are permitted to contact someone you know, but only if they are trying to locate you. They can only ask for an address or telephone number, and the collector must not mention the fact that they are trying to contact you because you owe money. They may not contact you at work if they know that your employer disapproves of such contact.

Once contact is made with you, the collector is required to send a notice within 5 days informing you of the amount of debt that is owed, the name of the creditor, the notice must state that the debt is valid unless it is disputed within 30 days.

  • Debt collectors are prohibited from harassing, oppressing, or being abusive in collecting a debt. This includes using threats or obscene language, publicizing the debt, making annoying or anonymous telephone calls, stating that they are with a credit bureau, misrepresenting the amount of the debt, and misrepresenting the identity of the collector, the status of the debt, and the consequences if it is not paid.
  • Debt collectors may not use misleading or false statements in order to collect a debt. They may not:
    • falsely imply that they are attorneys or government representatives;
    • falsely imply that you have committed a crime;
    • falsely represent that they operate or work for a credit bureau;
    • misrepresent the amount of your debt;
    • indicate that papers being sent to you are legal forms when they are not; or
    • indicate that papers being sent to you are not legal forms when they are. You can stop a debt collector from contacting you by writing a letter to the collector telling them to stop.
    • you will be arrested if you do not pay your debt;
    • they will seize, garnish, or attach wages, or sell your property, unless the collection agency or creditor intends to do so, and it is legal to do so; or
    • actions, such as a lawsuit, will be taken against you, when such action legally may not be taken, or when they do not intend to take such action.
    • give false credit information about you to anyone, including a credit bureau;
    • send you anything that looks like an official document from a court or government agency when it is not;
    • use a false name.
Note: You can stop a debt collector from contacting you by writing a letter to the collector telling them to stop. Once the collector receives your letter, they may not contact you again except to say there will be no further contact or to notify you that the debt collector or the creditor intends to take some specific action. If debt collectors violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, consumers can sue for actual and punitive damages.

Report any problems you have with a debt collector to your state Attorney General's office and the Federal Trade Commission. Many states have their own debt collection laws, and your Attorney General' s office can help you determine your rights.

The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them.

To file a complaint, visit ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The FTC enters internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

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