DEBT COLLECTION LAWS
Debt collectors have the right to collect debt owed to them but must do so fairly and within the confines of the law.
Many debtors do not know that the laws offer them certain protection against unfair treatment and harassment from creditors. They limit how far a debt collector can go in the course of collecting debt. Many states, including Florida, also have their own consumer protection laws.
Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)
FDCPA is a federal law that places a limit on what debt collectors can and cannot do in the course of collecting debt. The law forbids debt collectors from the use of abusive, unfair or deceptive practice in the course of collecting a debt.
The FDCPA covers personal debts like student loans, auto loans, credit card debt, mortgage, medical bills and other household debts. This law however does not cover business loans.
Debt collectors under the debt collection laws include debt buyers, debt collection agencies/companies, and lawyers who collect debt on behalf of clients.
Debt collectors according to FDCPA must –
- Not communicate with the debtor at any inconvenient time or place. This includes not contacting the debtor before 8 a.m. or after 9p.m, or at their workplace without the debtor’s consent.
- Not harass the debtor or anyone related to the debtor using foul language, threats, impersonation, and insistent disturbing phone calls, engage in unfair practices like trying to collect interest or other charges not stipulated in the initial contract, or deposit a post-dated check. A debt collector must also not lie. For instance, using false claims of legal action.
- Send a formal written validation notice to the debtor within 5 days of first contact. The validation notice must include the amount owed by the debtor, the name of the creditor and the action to be taken by the debtor if he/she feels the debt is erroneous.
- Not contact friends, relatives or colleagues. The debt collector must not discuss the debt with such a third party. The communication must be limited to the debtor’s address, or other contact information.
- Not contact the debtor if the debt collector knows that the debtor has an attorney representing him/her. The creditor must cease to contact you once the collector has access to your attorney.
The Florida Consumer Credit Protection Act (FCCPA)
The principal aim of the FCCPA, among others, is to ensure that lenders, lessors, and sellers of personal property governed by the act disclose vital credit terms to consumers.
Restrictions on garnishment are covered by Florida law to protect employees from overreaching wage garnishment.
Fair Credit Reporting Act protects the use of consumers’ personal information by credit reporting agencies and certain victims. It protects consumers from wrong, misleading or invalid credit information.
The Truth in Lending Act protects consumers from unfair billings and misleading advertising.
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act bans debt collectors from all forms of harassment of debtors including those discussed under FDCPA as well as making anonymous calls, using automated telephone dialing system or making any automated telephone calls to the debtor.
Pestering over social media, pressure to sell your property to pay off the debt, use of multiple debt collectors and public embarrassment all constitute harassment.
A harassed debtor can seek protection via –
- Filing of complaint with agencies like the Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or Florida Attorney General’s office.
- A written message to the collector barring him/her from further contact except to acknowledge the receipt of mail or notify the debtor of the debt collector’s next line of action within the law.
- Take a legal action against the debt collector.
There are punitive measures against debt collectors that violate these laws including actual and statutory damages. Being in debt does not mean you have no rights. You need to be acquainted with the law and your rights.