Sometimes life hits you hard and unexpected bills can get in the way of your short-term and long-term financial plans. For example, an emergency hospital visit due to unforeseen injuries can set you back thousands of dollars. Even if pending litigation may see you recover some of this money for damages, this alone will not keep creditors from calling to collect on unpaid bills.
While many choose to hide from collectors by avoiding calls, letters and other forms of communication, it is important to understand that you do have rights with respect to how collectors contact you for payment. In fact, there is a federal statute in place called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) specifically for the purpose of dictating how debtors are permitted to handle collections.
The common person may not understand the interworking of the FDCPA, but this blog should help provide some insight to readers as to how the Act works and what is considered a violation of the Act.
What is the FDCPA?
Coming directly from the early language of the FDCPA, the purpose of the act is to “eliminate abusive debt collection practices by debt collectors, to insure that those debt collectors who refrain from using abusive debt collection practices are not competitively disadvantaged, and to promote consistent State action to protect consumers against debt collection abuses.”
Essentially, the FDCPA serves to protect the market for collectors, as well as debtors from being taken advantage of. To be clear, this is a federal statute. It is important to understand that there is some variance between state and federal law and how it applies to your situation may vary from other debtors and collectors in varying jurisdictions.
While we may not be able to cover the legal intricacies of the FDCPA in this blog, we will be able to touch on some high level concepts and breakdown some potential violations of the act that you, as a debtor, may be experiencing on a regular basis.
What is a violation of the FDCPA?
While unable to cover every violation possible under the FDCPA, we can cover some of the more common and obvious issues that debtors have with violating creditors. Here we have some of these violations:
Harassment or Abuse
It is unlawful, under the FDCPA, for a debt collector to engage in conduct that is harassing, oppressive or abusive to a debtor or anyone in connection with the collection of a debt. Some examples of this are threats of physical, reputational or financial harm to the person being threatened. Additionally, the use of obscene language at all may be considered abusive towards the debtor.
False or Misleading Representations
A collector is in violation of the FDCPA if the collector uses any false or misleading representations in connection with collection of a debt. For example, making claims that a debt if affiliated with a government entity, when it is not in fact affiliated with the government, would be in violation. Common violations under this section of the act are misrepresentations that the caller has a legal background (attorney) or the non-payment of the debt will result in criminal repercussions.
The use of unfair or unconscionable means to collect a debt would also be in violation of the FDCPA. While late fees are a common practice when it comes to late payments on a bill, these fees must be understood and agreed to prior to charging them. Threats of exorbitant fees or early claims on post dated payment instruments would count as a violation.
How to deal with a Violation
While some practices involving debt collection may sound similar to these violations, there are grey areas within the text of the FDCPA that collectors can dance around to avoid a clear cut violation. As such, something that may be happening to you may actually be legal under the act. In order to fully understand if you are experiencing an FDCPA violation or not, it is in your best interest to reach out to an experienced attorney to guide you through the analysis of your circumstances.
An experienced attorney will help you get things pointed in the right direction, whether that be the filing of a claim or other options.
If you have experienced what you believe to be a violation of the FDCPA, you may be able to file a claim that would result in a reward for damages. While this may not save you from your debt completely, this can be a way to keep collectors honest and at bay. No one should have to endure such abusive behavior. Be sure to protect yourself and the ones you love in the event of FDCPA violations related to an outstanding debt that may be greatly affecting your life.