What are Fair Debt Collection Practices?

2/13/2006

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 Update: This article has been revised as of February, 2011.

Debt collectors face unique challenges that can tempt some in the business to engage in illegal behavior. According to Reuters, the Federal Trade Commission logged 120,000 debt collector complaints in 2009. If you believe that a debt collector is hounding or threatening you, it may be time to review your legal rights.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires that debt collectors treat those who have failed to repay their creditors in a fair manner. It prohibits abusive debt collection practices. For a complete listing of your rights as a debtor, visit the Federal Trade Commission website.

The following debt collection practices are among those that are prohibited.

Debt collectors may NOT:
• Harass, oppress or abuse you or any third parties they contact.
• Use threats of harm.
• Publish a list of consumers who refuse to pay their debts.
• Use obscene language.
• Repeatedly use the telephone to annoy someone.
• Take or threaten to take your property unless this can be done legally.

They are also restricted in the statements they can make to debtors.

Debt collectors may NOT tell you that:
• You will be arrested if you do not pay your debt.
• They will seize, garnish, attach or sell your property or wages, unless the collection agency or creditor intends to do so and it is legal to do so.
• They will take actions, such as a lawsuit, against you, when such action legally may not be taken, or when they do not intend to do so.
Finally, debt collectors may NOT:
• Give false credit information about you to anyone.
• Send you anything that looks like an official document from a court or government agency when it is not.
• Use a false name.

A debt collector is permitted to contact you in person, by mail, phone, telegram or fax. However, he or she may not contact you at inconvenient times or places (such as before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you agree). And, they may not contact your place of work if the collector knows that your employer disapproves of such contacts.
Report any problems you have with a debt collector to your state Attorney General’s office. You may also want to file a complaint with your Better Business Bureau.
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