The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is a federal law that protects consumers from abusive, unfair, and deceptive conduct by third-party debt collectors. The FDCPA applies to debts incurred for personal, family, or household purposes. If a debt collector violates the law in communicating with you about a debt, you can stop the abuse and may be able to recover damages, including attorney’s fees and court costs.
The stated purposes of the FDCPA include eliminating abusive debt collection practices and protecting consumers against the abuses. The law applies only to third-party debt collectors. It does not apply to a creditor who is collecting a debt you owe to them directly. Similarly, it does not apply to a collector that purchased or was assigned the debt.
The FDCPA applies to consumer debts incurred for personal, family, or household goods and services. Examples include car loans, credit card debt, medical bills, school loans, mortgages, and other consumer debts. It does not apply to other types of debts, including business debts, or debts owed to governmental agencies.
The statute contains complex provisions relating to prohibited and permissible conduct and practices of debt collectors. It regulates how a debt collector may communicate with the consumer and third parties.
The law prohibits harassing or abusive conduct in connection with collection of a debt, as well as use of false, misleading, or deceptive representations. A debt collector also is not permitted to use unfair or unconscionable means to collect a debt, including specific practices enumerated in the statute. In addition, the FDCPA provides the consumer with the means for requesting validation of a debt and disputing the validity in order to stop collection activity.
A third-party debt collector who violates any of the provisions of the law may be subject to civil liability and required to pay monetary damages for harm caused to the consumer, as well as the attorney’s fees and court costs of the consumer. The FDCPA also provides for statutory damages of up to $1,000.00 in some instances. The Federal Trade Commission has authority to enforce compliance with the FDCPA.
Debt collectors may contact you by phone, mail, email, or text regarding collection of a debt. Under the FDCPA, they may not contact you before 8 am or after 9 pm, unless you agree to being contacted outside those hours. They also cannot contact you at your place of employment if you tell them not to contact you at work. If you’re represented by an attorney, and you inform the collector, they must contact your attorney instead of contacting you.
If you are receiving unwanted collection calls, you may want to send a letter to the debt collector (via certified mail or fax) requesting that they stop contacting you. After they receive the letter, the FDCPA provides that the collector may only contact you to confirm that they will no longer contact you or to inform you that they are taking some type of specific action. Collection contacts after you send written notice of termination of future calls may violate the FDCPA. You can also send a letter informing the collector that you do not owe the debt.
A debt collector cannot discuss your debt with anyone except you, your spouse, or your attorney. A collector may be able to contact other people to obtain your address, phone number, or work location. However, the collector cannot discuss the debt with any third-party.
A collector is required to provide you with validation information about the debt, either in the first phone call or in writing within five days after the first contact. If you do not think the debt is yours or do recognize a debt, you can send a dispute letter within 30 days, asking for verification of the debt. At that point, the collector must stop contacting you until they provide written verification of the debt.
One tell-tale sign that you are dealing with a debt collector is the so-called “dunning notice” found on letters or read to you during collection calls. “Dunning” is the methodical process of contacting a consumer to collect a debt. On every collection letter, and during every collection call, the FDCPA requires debt collectors to include a specific dunning notice that informs you that the debt collector is attempting to collect a debt and that any information will be used for that purpose. Most collection letters include the phrase “this is an attempt to collect a debt. Any information obtained will be used for that purpose” at the end of collection letters.
The FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from harassing you, threatening to hurt you, using obscene or profane language, or calling you repeatedly with the intention to annoy or harass you. Collectors also cannot use deceptive practices, such as misrepresenting the amount you owe, threatening criminal or civil action they have no ability to bring or pretending to be someone that they are not (like an attorney or government representative).
Unfair practices by debt collectors, as described in the law, are also prohibited. Examples of this type of conduct include trying to collect fees or charges not allowed by the original contract, depositing a post-dated check early, or publicly revealing your debts.
If a debt collector’s practices or conduct violates the FDCPA, the consumer can stop the abuse and may be able to recover monetary damages, as well as attorney’s fees and court costs. You can report the debt collector to the FTC, but the FTC cannot recover damages for you.
If you retain your own attorney, you can file a lawsuit against a debt collector who violates the FDCPA. A legal action must be filed within one year of the date the collector violated the law. A good FDCPA attorney will help you track any illegal activities and protect your interests accordingly. Before contacting an attorney, you may want to keep a log of collection calls and note the return phone number, time of day, and content of the conversation so you can show it to your attorney.
If a debt collector violates your rights pursuant to the FDCPA, you may be able to claim all sorts of damages. For example, if you missed work and lost income, incurred medical bills, or suffered other financial harm, you can sue for reimbursement of those losses. The court may also award you an additional amount up to $1,000 in damages on account of the violation regardless of your actual damages. However, even if the court determines there was a violation, you may still owe the debt.
In addition to the FDCPA protections for consumers, the State of Kansas has powerful state consumer protection laws that address unfair and deceptive practices in many contexts. Even if your concern does not fall within the provisions of the FDCPA, Kansas law may provide you with consumer rights in the situation you face.
While the FDCPA and other laws protect consumers, debt collectors can take specific legal actions to collect on a debt. If you are facing any legal action by a debt collector, you should contact an attorney to represent you as soon as possible. Failing to do so could adversely affect your situation.
From our offices in Topeka and Lawrence, our experienced consumer law attorneys assist clients throughout the state with violations of federal and state consumer laws, including the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. We invite you to contact us by calling (785) 357-6311 or using our online contact form.