If you are tired of receiving calls from debt collectors at odd hours and at the office, do not despair. You are entitled to certain rights. Debt collectors must follow rules governed by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) when contacting you regarding money you might owe. Just because you have a debt, doesn’t mean they have free reign to harass you.
The FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect from you. Under the FDCPA, a debt collector is someone who regularly collects debts owed to others. This includes collection agencies, lawyers who collect debts on a regular basis, and companies that buy delinquent debts and then try to collect them.
The Miami-Dade Consumer Services Department shares these general rules of thumb when dealing with debt collectors:
• A debt collector may not contact you at inconvenient times or places, such as before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you agree to it. Collectors may not contact you at work if they’re told (orally or in writing) that you’re not allowed to get calls there.
• Refusal to provide written notice. Every collector must send you a written “validation notice” telling you how much money you owe within five days after they first contact you. This notice also must include the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money and how to proceed if you don’t think you owe the money.
• Harassment. Debt collectors may not harass, oppress, or abuse you or any third parties they contact. This includes using obscene or profane language or repeatedly phoning to annoy someone.
• False statements. Debt collectors may not lie when they are trying to collect a debt. They can’t use a false company name when contacting you, threaten that you will be arrested, or give false credit information about you to anyone.
• Unfair practices. Debt collectors may not engage in unfair practices, such as trying to collect any interest, fee, or other charge on top of the amount you owe unless the contract that created your debt — or your state law — allows the charge.
• A collector may contact other people but only to find out your address, your home phone number, and where you work. Collectors usually are prohibited from contacting third parties more than once. Other than to obtain this location information about you, a debt collector generally is not permitted to discuss your debt with anyone other than you, your spouse, or your attorney.
• Stopping a debt collector from contacting you. If a collector contacts you about a debt, you may want to talk to them at least once to see if you can resolve the matter — even if you don’t think you owe the debt, can’t repay it immediately, or think that the collector is contacting you by mistake. If you decide after contacting the debt collector that you don’t want the collector to contact you again, tell the collector — in writing — to stop contacting you.
Here’s how to do that: Make a copy of your letter. Send the original by certified mail and pay for a “return receipt” so you’ll be able to document what the collector received. Once the collector receives your letter, they may not contact you again, with two exceptions: A collector can contact you to tell you there will be no further contact or to let you know that they or the creditor intend to take a specific action, like filing a lawsuit.
Sending such a letter to a debt collector you owe money to does not get rid of the debt, but it should stop the contact. The creditor or the debt collector still can sue you to collect the debt.
• Report any problems you have with a debt collector to the Florida Office of Financial Regulation at 1-800-848-3792, the state Attorney General’s office (http://myfloridalegal.com) and the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov). Many states have their own debt collection laws that are different from the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Your Attorney General’s office can help you determine your rights under your state’s law.
To learn more about debt collection and other credit-related issues, visit www.ftc.gov/credit and MyMoney.gov, the U.S. government’s portal to financial education.
For additional consumer tips, or to check the complaint history of a company, file a complaint or ask consumer-related questions, visit the Miami-Dade Consumer Services Department website at <www.miamidade.gov/csd>, call 305-375-3677 or send email to email@example.com.
Sonya M. Perez is with the Miami-Dade Consumer Services Department.