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 abusive practices from debt collection agencies and debt collectors. 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 collection agency harassment.
What The FDCPA 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 circumstances where a debt collection agency is contacting you for payment of a debt that you owe to another establishment 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 a debt collector contacts you, they have to tell you who they are what company they are with and that they are a debt collector.
- They have to notify you of your right to dispute the debt. This notice is called a 1692g Notice - Validation of debts.
- They have to provide verification of the debt if you ask in writing within 30 days of receiving the notice. They must provide you with the who the original creditor was (the name and address of the company or institution that you owed the money to).
- 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 Los Angeles and you got into this debt while you lived there, but now you have moved to Montana, the debt collector can file a lawsuit either in Los Angeles or in Montana. Nowhere else.
- What Debt Collectors Are Not permitted To DoThey are not permitted to contact you by telephone outside of the hours of 8:00 a.m. To 9:00 p.m. (your local time).
- They are not permitted to 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 are not permitted to harass you by telephone, e.g. Constantly calling causing your phone to ring or engaging any person in telephone conversation repeatedly or continuously: With intent to annoy, abuse, or harass any person at the called number.
- They are not permitted to contact you at your place of employment after having been advised that this is unacceptable or prohibited by the employer.
- They are not permitted to contact you after you have given 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 are not permitted to contact you until after they have sent you the verification.
- They are not permitted to 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 cannot publish your name and address on a bad debt list.
- They are not permitted to threaten you with arrest or legal action unless these things are genuinely possible and planned.
- They are not permitted to use abusive or profane language.
- They are not permitted to reveal or discuss your debt with any third party, except your spouse or your attorney, and they are not permitted to threaten to do this (e.g. They must not threaten to tell your employer or family).
- They are not permitted to 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 are not permitted to put false information on your credit report, or threaten to do so.