As of the end of 2014, it was estimated that 14 percent of adult Americans having at least one debt that is subject to collections. That means a lot of business for debt collectors, and a lot of potential that debt collectors may stray from the rules for how they’re supposed to about trying to get you to pay them money. Stories about abusive debt collection activities — including debt collectors trying to coerce people into paying debts they never even owed — seem more and more common in the news media. Unfortunately, a lot of people may have no idea that they don’t have to just suffer through repeated harassing phone calls, threats of arrest, or other types of abusive debt collection activities. If you need debt collection help in Ohio, call (888) 726-3181 today.
Your Rights as a Debtor
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act recognizes a number of rights granted to debtors to protect their privacy and to ensure that debt collectors do not engage in tactics that are abusive, threatening, or misleading.
- You have the right to be notified that debt collection activity is in fact debt collection activity. Debt collectors are prohibited from making false statements or misrepresenting themselves, and have to inform you that they’re contacting you for the purposes of collecting a debt.
- You have the right to be provided documentation of the debt. The debt collector is supposed to provide you information in writing that includes how much you owe, who you owe the debt to, a statement that you have 30 days to dispute the debt or it will be assumed to be valid, and instructions on what you should do if you want to dispute the debt.
- You have the right to dispute the debt. It’s not uncommon for debtors to receive collection notices for debts that they don’t actually owe. The debt may not be owed because it was paid in full or through a settlement. It may not even be your debt, but in fact is owed by someone with a similar name. You also may no longer owe the debt if the statute of limitations for collecting the debt has expired. If you don’t believe you owe a debt, you can send the debt collector a letter within 30 days that says you don’t believe you owe the money, or asking for documentation to verify the debt. Once you send that letter, the debt collector has to stop contacting you.
- You have the right to ask not to be contacted by phone at work, and not to be contacted at unreasonable times such as late at night or early in the morning. Unless you give them permission, debt collectors are not supposed to contact you before 8 am or after 9 pm. Once a debt collector is told either verbally or in writing that you can’t receive calls at work, the calls are supposed to stop.
- You have the right to ask a debt collector to stop contacting you. You can send a letter to the debt collector to ask them to stop contacting you altogether. The Federal Trade Commission recommends sending your letter by certified mail and paying for a return receipt so that you have documentation that the letter was sent and received. After the debt collector receives a letter, the contact has to stop, except that the debt collector can send you a letter to acknowledge that there will be no more contact, or to notify you that the creditor is going to take an action such as filing a lawsuit.
- You have the right to control which debts your money is applied to. When a debt collector is collecting on multiple accounts, you have the right when you make a payment to say which debt or debts the money goes toward. So if, for example, a collector contacts you about a credit card and a hospital bill, you can say that the money goes toward the hospital bill and not the credit card. Additionally, if you dispute one of the debts that the collector says you owe, the collector is not allowed to apply any payments you make toward the disputed debt.
Things Debt Collectors Can’t Do Under the FDCPA
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act also prohibits a number of tactics that debt collectors sometimes employ when attempting to get you to pay a bill. Among the things that debt collectors may not do are:
- Abuse, harass, threaten or coerce you or third parties such as your family and friends. This means that debt collectors can’t use threats of violence, or to publish your name on a list of people who don’t pay their debts, or to use profanities when talking to you. It also means that they’re not supposed to make repeated phone calls to annoy you into paying your debt.
- Use false or deceptive statements to collect the debt. This includes making statements that they’re lawyers if they are not, or that they are government representatives such as sheriff’s deputies or IRS officials when they are not. Also included in this prohibition are falsely claiming that you committed a crime and will be prosecuted, claiming they work for a credit reporting company when they do not, claiming you owe a different amount than you owe, sending papers that look like legal forms but are not, or claiming that legal forms they send to you are not legal forms.
- Telling you you’ll be arrested for failing to pay the debt. Some debt collectors may try this tactic to scare someone into paying. However, it’s illegal.
- Claiming that they’ll garnish you if they don’t actually have the power to do that. In many circumstances, a debt collector may have the authorization to proceed with a lawsuit. However, you can’t be garnished without due process. That means the creditor has to sue you, get a judgment in court, and then get a judge to order the garnishment. When you get sued, you have the right to respond and to have a hearing in court. If a debt collector tells you that you’ll be garnished without going through this process, that may be a violation of the law.
- Call you at work after being told you can’t receive calls there. As discussed above, you have the right to ask not to be contacted at work, and once you make that request, contact is supposed to stop.
- Tell other people, including your employer, that you owe a debt. Some debt collectors may try to shame you into paying a debt by telling other people that you owe money, or threatening to tell your employer, family, or friends that you owe money. That may be a violation of your right to privacy.
- Take your property or threaten to take it. Creditors can only seize your property if it’s collateral for the debt, such as repossessing your car if you fall behind on your car payments, or if they go through the process of suing you and getting a judgment in court. They can’t just show up at your house and take your stuff because you haven’t paid a credit card or medical bill.
- Deposit post-dated checks before the date written on the check. If you give a check to a creditor to pay a bill that is post-dated for when you know money will be in your account, the creditor or debt collector is not allowed to deposit that check before the date you’ve agreed to.
- Collect more than you owe or agree to pay in a settlement. You never have to pay more than you owe on a debt, and a debt collector must document the amount you owe if requested. As discussed above, you have the right to dispute a debt if you believe you don’t owe part or all of the amount being demanded.
- Send you a postcard or mail that shows on the outside that it is from a debt collector. This is similar to the prohibition against telling other people that you owe a debt, and is designed to protect your right to privacy by not outwardly showing that a piece of mail is being used to collect a debt. However, the letter inside needs to be clear that it is a debt collection communication.
What You Can Do if Collectors Violate Your Rights
You have a few different options when a debt collector engages in tactics that are harassing, threatening, abusive, or that you believe violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. You can make a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or Federal Trade Commission and the agency will conduct an investigation and possible take action against the debt collector.
However, you also may be able to make a claim for compensation. When a debt collector uses abusive tactics, you may be able to recover up to $1,000 in statutory damages, as well as actual damages such as lost wages if you lose your job because the debt collector wouldn’t stop calling you at work. You also may be able to recover your attorney fees.
If you’ve been the victim of abusive debt collection activity, an experienced consumer law help attorney can discuss your options for making the collection activity stop, and possibly getting compensated for the toll the abusive debt collection activity has taken on your life.
Need Debt Collection Help in Ohio?
An experienced Ohio debt help lawyer also may be able to help you to get your debt under control by negotiating with your creditors to set up payment plans you can afford. If you are being harassed by telemarketers or collections agencies, contact us for a free legal consultation with an experienced Ohio debt help lawyer at (888) 726-3181 or firstname.lastname@example.org.