Consumer defense does not involve defective products—that’s the realm of products liability suits. Consumer defense is the area of law that protects you from debt collectors, protects the integrity of your credit report, and punishes those that use auto-dialers to call you without your consent. Three main statutes that create this area of law are the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, and the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is a federal statute that protects consumers from the bad behavior of debt collectors. It specifically prohibits debt collectors from engaging in abusive debt collection practices.
The FDCPA only applies to consumer debts—business debts are not included. It also only applies to debt collectors. An original creditor is not a debt collector. If you got a credit card from Capital One, then that is your original creditor. When Capital One calls to collect on its own debt, it is not a debt collector. If Capital One sold your debt or hired a collector to call you, then those parties (not Capital One) are debt collectors. Law firms can also be considered debt collectors if their primary business is debt collection.
The FDCPA prohibits abusive and unfair debt collection practices. Among other things, debt collectors:
The FDCPA allows you to pursue debt collectors for their bad behavior. You are entitled to your actual damages (generally out-of-pocket damages) or statutory damages. The statutory damages can be up to $1,000 maximum. You can also recover your attorney’s fees. It is important to note that violations do not stack. If you are called and the debt collector both uses abusive language and threatens to have you arrested, the whole call only counts as one violation of the law.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) was enacted to ensure that consumer credit reports are accurate. Consumers can dispute inaccurate credit reporting, requiring the credit reporting bureau to investigate and correct those inaccuracies. The three main credit reporting companies, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion are all governed by the FCRA. Other, smaller credit reporting agencies are as well.
If you have attempted to submit your disputes and the credit reporting remains inaccurate, you may have a lawsuit against the credit reporting agency and possibly the creditor. An experienced Illinois consumer defense attorney can help you identify those claims.
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) was enacted to protect consumers from unwanted phone calls and faxes. While the TCPA still provides protection for unsolicited faxes, the declining use of fax machines has decreased the overall number of junk faxes. It was also enacted when most cellular phones were billed by the minute.
However, it still has relevance today. It prohibits unsolicited calls made with an automated telephone dialing system (ATDS). You can generally identify these calls because they either open with a robotic voice, or there is a distinct pause before the line connects to the caller. This is usually because the caller is dialing multiple numbers with the ATDS.
You can pursue violators for between $500 and $1500 PER CALL. Keeping good records is key. You’ll want to note the time, date, and phone number. If you can, take screen shots as well.
You can lodge complaints with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. However, they are not staffed sufficiently to handle all claims. Hiring an experienced consumer defense attorney is your best bet. Given that you can recover your attorney’s fees under the FDCPA, you can feel safer bringing your own lawsuit.
O'Flaherty Law is happy to meet with you by phone or at our office locations in: