It’s no secret the debt collection industry is booming. A stagnant economy plus high employment has led to rising levels of debt among Americans, and collections agencies are busier than ever before. While a majority of debt collectors follow the laws set by the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, there are anecdotes aplenty in the press of companies that abuse the rules laid out in that legislation.
Recent news stories have seen debt collectors fined for refusing to take relay calls from hearing impaired debtors, collections firms harassing individuals for debts that are not theirs, agencies calling cell phones or making calls before 8:00 am, and debt collection companies and individuals accused of threatening debtors fined and banned from working in the industry after settling with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC (News - Alert)).
While the FTC works hard to identify the bad actors in the collections industry, the agency has limited resources and manpower, so it’s incumbent upon consumers to know what debt collectors may and may not do. To help consumers better understand their rights, the website, the Consumerist ,recently prepared a list of things debt collectors cannot do when attempting to collect an outstanding debt. They may not:
1. Call before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m. without permission;
2. Contact a debtor at work if they’ve been asked not to;
3. Use threats of violence or harm;
4. Obscene or profane language;
5. Publish or threaten to publish a list of names of people who refuse to pay their debts;
6. Falsely claim that they are attorneys or government representatives; or send fake legal or government documents;
7. Falsely claim a debtor has committed a crime; or threaten to seize property;
8. Falsely represent that they operate or work for a credit reporting company;
9. Misrepresent the amount owed;
10. Claim debtors can be arrested if they don’t pay their debt;
11. Threaten to seize, garnish, attach, or sell a debtor’s property or wages unless they are permitted by law to take the action and intend to do so; or
12. Use a false company name;
13. Try to collect any interest, fee, or other charge on top of the amount owed unless the contract that created the debt or relevant state law allows the charge;
14. Garnish any of the following, even after proving their case against a debtor in a lawsuit: Social Security benefits, veteran’s benefits, civil service and federal retirement and disability benefits, student assistance, service member’s pay, military annuities and survivor’s benefits, or Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) federal disaster assistance.
15. Contact a debtor who has notified them in writing that they do not wish to be contacted again (unless they are notifying you of a lawsuit).
Violations of these rules may be reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) here.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman