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What Are the Rules for Debt Collectors Under the FDCPA?

Article written by Illinois & Iowa Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Updated on
November 1, 2019

In this article we explain rules that debt collectors are required to follow under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.   We’ll answer the following questions:

·       What is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act?

-       When does the FDCPA apply?

·       What are debt collectors allowed and not allowed to do?

·       What are debt collectors required to do?

·       Where and when can a debt collector contact me?

·       How can a debt collector contact me?

·       How to Report a Violation of the FDCPA

What is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act?

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is a federal law that sets forth limitations on the limitations that debt collectors are allowed to take when collecting a debt.  For an overview of the FDCPA, check out our article: The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act Explained.

When does the FDCPA Apply?

The fair debt collection practices act generally applies when third-party collectors seek to collect a consumer debt.  It does not apply to business debts or “in-house” collection efforts by the entity that extended the credit.  For more on this, check out our article: When Does the FDCPA Apply?

What is a debt collector not allowed to do?

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits debt collectors from the following disrespectful behaviors:

  • Lie: Debt collectors have to be truthful in their communication. They cannot misrepresent the amount of debt, if the debt is past the statute of limitations, legal repercussions for not paying the debt, or who is contacting the debtor. While debt collectors have to stay honest, they can choose to not answer any questions at all. For example, if you’re trying to determine if a debt is past the statute of limitations, the debt collector can choose to simply not answer the question.
  • Harassment: Debt collectors cannot harass debtors for payment. Harassment refers to threats of violence, the use of obscene or profane language, listing your debt for sale to the public, and excessive repetition of contact. They cannot contact consumers at their place of employment after a request not to, contact consumers known to be represented by an attorney, or contact consumers after the request for validation has been made. They are also prohibited from publishing lists of consumers who haven’t paid debts. Aggressive patterns in behavior may be a sign that you’re dealing with a scam debt collector, so if you’re experiencing harassment from a debt collector, be sure to figure out if you’re in contact with a scammer.
  • Unfair practices: Debt collectors cannot try to deceive or engage in unfair practices. For example, they can’t try to collect interest, fees, or other charges on top of the amount you owe, unless the original contract allows it; deposit a post-dated check early; or threaten to take or take your property, unless it can be done legally. They also cannot solicit postdated checks for payment or collect more than you owe on a debt, which may include fees and interest.
  • Communicate with third parties: Debt collectors cannot reveal or discuss the nature of your debts with third parties, which include anyone other than your spouse or attorney. Collection agencies are allowed to contact your neighbors or coworkers one time, but only to obtain information like your address or phone number. Even though they can call relatives, a bill collector cannot reveal any information about your debt, including the fact that he or she is calling from a debt collection agency.

Just as debt collectors are prohibited from dishonest actions, The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to also requires them to abide by the following guidelines.

What is a debt collector required to do?  

  • Identify themselves and notify the consumer: In every communication to the consumer, debt collectors must state their identity and why they’re calling.
  • Provide the name and address of the original creditor: Debt collectors are required to provide the name of the company to which the debt was originally payable, upon the consumer’s written request made within 30 days of receipt.
  • Provide verification of the debt: When a consumer sends a written dispute or request for verification, the debt collector must either mail the consumer the requested verification information or cease collection efforts altogether.
  • Notify the consumer of his or her right to dispute the debt: Once the consumer receives the debt collector’s notice, he or she has 30 days to demand verification of the debt in order to dispute the amount.
  • File a lawsuit in a proper venue: If a debt collector does decide to file a lawsuit against you, it may only be in a place where the consumer lives or signed the contract.

Where and when can debt collectors contact me?

Under the terms of the FDCPA, debt collectors can’t contact you at inconvenient times or places. They can only contact you from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., unless you specifically agree to a time outside those hours. Debt collectors can contact you at work, until you tell them to stop calling your place of employment. Once you tell them, either verbally or in writing, to stop contacting you at work, they cannot continue to legally do so. Debt collectors can also contact you at your home residence. In order to stop collectors from calling your home phone, you must ask the debt collector to stop contacting you in a formal letter.

How can a debt collector contact me?

Debt collectors can call, email, text, or send letters to you in order to collect a debt.

What Happens if a Debt Collector Violates the FDCPA?

If a debt collector violates the FDCPA, they may be liable for statutory penalties, damages, and attorney fees.  For more on this, check out our article: The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act Explained.

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When does the FDCPA Apply?

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