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How far can a debt collector take it?

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) was enacted in 1978 to protect consumers from unscrupulous and abusive collection practices. The act limits certain types of actions collectors can take regarding debts they claim you owe. The Act also allows consumers to dispute the debt and ask the collector to provide proof that the debt is valid.

Disputing and validating debts

Any agency claiming you owe a debt must provide information about the amount owed and whom the original creditor was. Additionally, they must inform you that you can dispute the validity of the debt within 30 days from receiving the initial notice. However, if you do not dispute you owe the debt in that time period, the creditor will consider the debt valid. 

Additionally, if you provide written notification disputing the debt within that 30-day window, the creditor must obtain verification and mail you a copy of their findings. If you seek the original creditor's address because it's different from the current creditor, they must provide you with that information, as well. Until the collector is able to verify the debt, all collection activity must stop.

Limitations on collection

Consumers, like you, are protected from overzealous debt collectors who aim to intimidate. The following are examples of what they cannot do:

Harass or abuse: A collector cannot threaten you with physical violence or harm your reputation or property. They cannot use language that is abusive, including obscene or profane language, or cause your phone to continually ring with the intent to annoy.

False or misleading statements: A collector cannot make statements that are false, deceptive or misleading. For example, telling you that you will be arrested or put in prison unless you pay the debt is false and misleading. Furthermore, asserting your assets will be seized or wages garnished in an effort to receive payment for the debt is not appropriate if the creditor does not intend to take such action. This is false and misleading.

Unfair practices: A collector is prohibited from charging consumers with collection calls or telegram fees. They are also barred from communicating via a postcard or asking for a post-dated check and threatening to cash it before the agreed upon date.

In addition to the above items, collection agencies are prohibited from providing you with falsified forms. For example, creating a document to falsely suggest another entity is participating in collection efforts (when they are not) is a violation of the FDCPA.

Mounting debts and calls from collectors can be overwhelming. If the debt is out of control, filing bankruptcy may be an option. Otherwise, if you believe one of your creditors or their collection agencies violated the FDCPA, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or speak with a qualified attorney.

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