Debt collectors have been long known for their aggressive and oftentimes abusive tactics, and getting a collection letter may lead a consumer to believe they have no other choice than to start coughing up money or face a lawsuit or worse.
But under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), debt collectors have rules to keep their practices in check and consumers have safeguards to protect them if collectors step over the line.
For instance, collectors are prohibited under the law from misrepresenting themselves and harassing consumers — and are required to provide consumers with accurate information about their debts and refrain from using threatening language in their letters and phone calls.
And when collectors knowingly violate the law, a court may find that they’re actually the ones who need to pay up, not the consumers they harassed.
The attorneys at Consumer Attorneys can not only help consumers understand their rights under the FDCPA — they can also shield them from further contact by collectors while our team finds ways to resolve debts or even hold unscrupulous collectors accountable for breaking the FDCPA.
Consumers’ Rights Under The FDCPA
The US Congress enacted the FDCPA in 1978 after finding that the debt collection industry was rife with unfair and abusive practices and that they were causing financial instability for many American families.
But more than four decades later, the industry hasn’t completely abandoned its darker impulses — and the team at Consumer Attorneys can help consumers defend themselves and their households from predatory collectors.
When a collector contacts a consumer about a debt, the FDCPA requires the collector to inform the consumer in its initial communication or within five days how much is owed and to whom.
Additionally, the consumer has a 30-day window after receiving the notice to contest a portion or the entirety of the debt. If there is a dispute, the consumer may ask for a validation letter to get more information.
A debt validation letter can help a consumer ensure that they’re actually paying off the right debt — original creditors often sell debt off to third parties and borrowers’ information can get lost in the shuffle, thus a collector may be contacting the wrong party about the debt they’re trying to collect.
Restrictions For Debt Collectors
Debt collectors are prohibited under the FDCPA from putting phony or misleading information in their letters to consumers, including identifying themselves as attorneys, and must provide clear and accurate contact information.
Some federal courts have found that there are strict limits on the language collectors use not only in their letters to consumers, but the envelopes in which they mail them.
The Chicago-based Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently found that a collector violated the FDCPA by stamping “time sensitive information” on its envelopes for debt letters — the law states that only the name of the collection business can be listed, and that no other symbols can be used.
But if the name of that business clearly shows that it is a debt collector, that also may not be included on the envelope mailed to a consumer.
How We Can Help
The attorneys at Consumer Attorneys can work with consumers to determine if collectors have violated the law by failing to provide required information about the debts they’re trying to collect, using threatening language or trying to shake down consumers for money they’re not even obligated to pay.
If a court finds that a collector knowingly violated the FDCPA, a consumer who fell victim to the violation may be entitled to an award of up to $1,000 in damages plus attorney fees. If the collector’s violations were widespread, consumers who fell victim to their practices may be able to join forces in a class-action lawsuit against the creditor.
Consumer Attorneys can also give consumers peace of mind by keeping collectors off their backs if the firm takes their case — under the law, collectors are no longer able to contact consumers directly if they’ve brought an attorney into the fight.