Consumer Rights and Collection Agencies
Your Fair Debt Collection Rights
You have a number of consumer rights if you are facing harassment or abuse from a debt collection agency. It is against the law for collection agencies to harass you. There is a federal fair debt collection practices law and similar laws in most states. In some cases, state laws are more powerful than the federal law. One of the most important protections in the federal fair debt law is your right to send a letter and request that a collection agency stop contacting you. There are no magic words that you must use, but the request must be in writing. It is a good idea to keep a copy for yourself, send it by certified mail, and get a receipt. Once you send the letter, the loan holder can still sue you, but it can no longer send letters or call you. You can use these self-help packets in English and Spanish to help you write this “cease communication” letter. The CFPB also has sample letters you can use to respond to a student loan debt collector.
Other important rights in the federal fair debt law include:
1. Privacy Protections
- Collectors are prohibited from communicating with third parties. Your spouse, parent (if you are a minor) guardian, executor or administrator are not considered to be third parties. Third parties include non-immediate family members, coworkers, neighbors, etc.
- No communication is allowed at any unusual time or place. In the absence of other information, the law assumes that after 8:00 a.m. and before 9:00 p.m. is the only admissible time.
- No communication is allowed if the collector knows you are represented by an attorney. The agency must communicate with the attorney.
- No communication is allowed at your place of employment if the collector knows or has reason to know that the employer prohibits such communication.
2. Harassment and Abuse Is Prohibited
The law makes it illegal for debt collectors to harass or abuse you. Some examples include collectors that:
- Use obscene or insulting language,
- Refuse to disclose their identity,
- Threaten violence,
- Call over and over again, or
- Make intimidating statements such as threats to investigate you or telling you that you should not have children if you can’t afford them.
3. False or Misleading Representations Are Prohibited
For example, collectors may not make false representations of the character, amount, or legal status of any debt. They cannot threaten to take any action that cannot legally be taken (e.g. foreclosing on your house, garnishing your bank account, putting your children into foster care, arrest or incarceration, impounding your car).
In addition, the collector must disclose in the initial written communication with you (and in addition, if the initial communication is oral, in that oral communication) that the debt collector is attempting to collect a debt and that any information obtained will be used for that purpose, and must disclose in subsequent communications that the communication is from a debt collector. (See sample).
4. Validation of Debts
Within five days after the initial communication, debt collectors must provide information about your right to validate the debt. You have thirty days to dispute validity. (see sample 1 and sample 2). The collector must cease collection if validation is requested until the collector obtains verification of the debts.