Debt collectors are usually tough negotiators. Dealing with any debt collector can be stressful; dealing with an unethical debt collector presents a multitude of challenges! If a debt collector is currently harassing or threatening you, you might be of the opinion that there is no such a thing as debt collector “ethics”. Maybe the debt collector threatened to sue you, or take your house if you don’t pay an old debt? Are they calling you excessively at the office? You need to know that you have rights and protection under the law. A debt collector cannot legally harass you over a debt.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) protects consumers against harassment, threats and unwanted calls at the office. It also protects consumers against any false, deceptive and misleading tactics to collect debts. The FDCPA provides remedies for violations by the debt collector. In addition to your statutory protection, the debt collection industry adopted a set of ethical guidelines, The Debt Collectors Ethics Code. This code of ethics demands that members act with honesty and integrity. They must refrain from any dishonest, fraudulent and deceitful conduct.
Some debt collectors take advantage of the average person’s lack of knowledge of fair debt collector’s practices. Knowledge is always powerful. The best way to determine if a collector is operating within the debt collectors code of ethics is to familiarise yourself with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Protect yourself against unethical debt collectors by knowing the law and your rights.
The Debt Collector Ethics Code
A debt collector must, inter alia:
- Treat consumers with consideration and respect
- Communicate honestly and with integrity
- Suspend collection activities upon receipt of a written request from the consumer for verification of the debt.
- Conduct a reasonable investigation to verify the debt and the accuracy of the information provided to the debt collector.
- Not harass or threaten consumers
- Not act dishonourably, unethically or unprofessionally
- Make reasonable efforts to protect the consumer’s privacy and keep the debt confidential.
- Not threaten legal action that is not legally available
- Not contact you at an inconvenient time, specified in the act as before 8:00 am or after 9:00pm, unless you give your permission.
Illegal and unethical practices by debt collectors
Michael Agruss, an expert in consumer law, provides valuable insight into debt collector ethics on his website www.agrussconsumerlaw.com.
Some debt collectors buy junk-debt for pennies on the dollar and then use unethical tactics to “force” payment of these debts to them. Some even buy old debts that are beyond the statute of limitations. Go to https://www.agrussconsumerlaw.com/asset-recovery-associates-ara-inc-harassment for more information on how some debt collectors operate.
Let’s look at a few common practices used by unethical collectors to intimidate consumers into paying debts illegally.
- Debt collectors threaten to take “legal action” against you, but they don’t actually intend to take such action; and/or the action is not legally available. For example:
- Your debt had gone beyond the statute of limitations, but the debt collector threatens to take you to court. They say you will be arrested if you don’t pay, or that they will attach your property, but they don’t intend to do so and they are not legally entitled to do so.
- They lie and make false statements
- They use abusive or obscene language
- They claim that they are lawyers or government agencies
- They misrepresent the amount you owe
- They pretend that the forms they sent you are legal documents when it’s not, and vice versa.
- The debt collector discloses your debt to friends, neighbours or co-workers. This is illegal and unethical. Your debt is confidential and may not be disclosed to anyone, other than an authorized person, without your permission.
These are just a few common examples of unethical and illegal tactics used by debt collectors. It is mind-boggling what some consumers must put up with from debt collectors.
The law against unethical and illegal debt collector practices
- The FDCPA is essentially a list of what debt collectors can and cannot do. It also provides a list of what they MUST do. For example:
- Within five days of the initial communication with the consumer, the debt collector must provide you with written information about:
- The amount of the debt, and
- The name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed.
- The consumer must be informed that the debt will be assumed to be valid by the debt collector, unless the consumer disputes the validity of the debt within thirty days.
- If the debt is disputed in writing, within the thirty days, the debt collector must provide verification of the debt.
- If you request the debt collector in writing to stop contacting you, they may not contact you again, except to inform you that there will be no further contact, or to inform you of legal action they intend to take.
- The Telephone Consumer Protection Act protects consumers against so-called Robocalls. Those irritating, automated pre-recorded calls that computers make all day long! The good news is that you can get $500 per call if it violates the TCPA.
- The Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) prohibits unauthorized deductions from your bank account.
- The Fair Crediting Reporting Act (FCRA) gives you the right to dispute any inaccuracies that you find on your credit report. It aims to protect you against false information on your credit report.
What remedies are available to you?
If you are harassed, under the FDCPA, you may be entitled to $1000 in damages, plus actual damages and $500-$1500 for illegal robocalls. You may also benefit from the fee-shift provision that provides for the collector to pay your legal fees. If a credit reporting agency violates your rights under the Fair Credit Report Act, you may be entitled to $1000 in statutory damages and the agency will be obligated to fix the mistake. For more information on how the law protects you and what remedies are available to you go to www.agrussconsumerlaw.com/summit-receivables.
Where can you find information about debt collectors?
A good indication of complaints against debt collectors is the number of lawsuits filed against them. The Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) lists federal complaints involving consumer rights’ violations. You can also visit consumer websites like Better Business Bureau and Google Reviews for company reviews and complaints.
Michael Argruss provides information about debt collectors that consumers should be careful of. He even lists telephone numbers used by debt collectors. Go to www.agrussconsumerlaw.com/asset-recovery-associates-ara-inc-harassment for more information.
Protect your rights
Now that you know your rights, you might be better equipped to deal with debt collectors. If it’s a valid debt, just make every effort to pay your bills. If however, you are dealing with an unethical debt collector and your rights are being violated, take action. Don’t be intimidated. Get as much details as you can from the company in writing. Contact a consumer protection agency or a consumer lawyer to fight for your rights.
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