When a consumer falls behind on credit or loan payments, debt collection agencies often become involved, either on behalf of the lender or as the result of purchasing debt from original creditors. Collection efforts generally begin with a debt collector contacting you by phone, through the mail, or both. Others may initiate a lawsuit in order to obtain a court order demanding payment of the debt.
The debt collection industry is heavily regulated by the federal government under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Under the FDCPA, collectors cannot visit you at work, cannot have you arrested, or harass, abuse, or threaten you in any way. However, the FDCPA also details actions debt collectors are permitted to take in order to collect an outstanding debt, including the permission to contact family members.
Debt collectors are allowed to contact third-party contacts, such as family members, friends or neighbors, however, they are only permitted to contact one person, one time unless the contact requests they call back at a later time. Additionally, collectors are allowed to make a follow-up contact attempt if they reasonably believe they may be able to learn new information on your whereabouts.
When contacting a family member or other third party, collectors may request contact information but may not disclose the purpose of the call or information related to the debt. They cannot demand payment, harass, threaten, berate, or abuse a third party to gain information or payment, and they cannot leave messages with a third party.
Do I Have Rights or Protections Against Aggressive Debt Collectors?
Consumers are protected from unfair and predatory debt collection tactics by the laws created by the FDCPA. The Act establishes regulations detailing what debt collection agencies can and cannot do when attempting to collect outstanding credit card, student loan, and medical debts from consumers. The law does not apply to original creditors, such as banks, however.
The FDCPA dictates certain requirements collection agencies must adhere to when first contacting you, and your rights when they do.
When a debt collection agency first contacts you, they must:
- Identify the agency name and explain they are contacting you in an effort to collect an outstanding debt.
- Inform you of your rights as established under the FDCPA.
- Send you a written confirmation letter explaining the details of the debt owed and your rights under the FDCPA within five days of first contacting you.
During first contact, the collection agency must:
- Identify themselves and the agency they represent.
- Avoid harassing or using abusive language, yelling, or threatening you.
- Not disclose any information or details regarding the debt collection to third parties, such as family, friends, or your employer.
- Provide you with accurate information regarding the debt, such as the nature of the debt, the amount owed, and the debt’s current status.
- Not contact you via mailed postcard. Written communications should be sealed in unmarked postal envelopes with no obvious markings relating to the debt.
Upon first contact by a debt collection agency, you have the right to:
- Request written validation of the debt within 30 days of when you were first contacted by the collection agency.
- File a dispute regarding the validity of the debt within 30 days of when the collection agency first contacted you. Once the dispute is filed, the collection agency is not allowed to contact you again until the details of the debt are verified.
Depending on the nature of the debt, such as mortgage, vehicle, or student loans, you may be covered by additional rights. Consult an attorney regarding additional rights and protections.
Can I Stop Debt Collectors From Calling My Family Members?
Along with the aforementioned rights you have under the FDCPA, you have the right to request debt collectors stop contacting you, your place of work, or family members by:
- Requesting custom communication.
- Sending a cease and desist letter.
- Making payments.
- Hiring an attorney.
Having debt collectors contact your friends or family members can be frustrating, but it is legal as long as they abide by the requirements of the FDCPA. When they sidestep the laws and violate your rights, Francis Mailman Soumilas, P.C. can help. Call us at 215-735-8600 or contact us online to schedule a no-obligation, free consultation. You may be able to collect compensation for out-of-pocket costs, including attorney fees, if your right have been violated. Located in Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, and San Francisco, we serve clients nationwide.