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Collection Agencies: Not Above the Law
Stress. Worry. Confusion. All of these emotions are understandable if you’re stuck with large amounts of debt. Constant contact from demanding collection agencies can be worrisome and disruptive. But is your collection agency acting within the law? Here’s what you need to know about your rights with respect to collection agencies.
United States residents have certain rights and responsibilities when it comes to collection agencies thanks to federal and state laws that are designed to protect debtors from unfair debt collection practices. The federal Fair Debt Collection Act (FDCA) doesn’t change the amount of money you may owe, but it demands that creditors act according to certain strict standards of fairness.
Reasonable and Fair Contact
The standards set forth by the FDCA are straightforward and have to do with reasonable and fair contact. For example, creditors may not contact you outside of reasonable hours (reasonable hours are usually between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.) or by unreasonable means. While mail, telephone, fax, or in-person contacts are all considered reasonable, these contacts cannot be at odd hours or in strange formats. In addition, you have the right to ask a collection agency to quit contacting you. Though this does not erase your debt, your wishes must be followed by the agency. Write a letter to your creditor asking not to be contacted again; aside from replying to acknowledge receipt, the creditor is barred by law from contacting you.
Beware: even if you request that creditor contact cease, your creditors may resume contact once they send you proof that you do indeed owe a debt. Any initial contact by a creditor must be followed by written proof of the debt within 5 days; this contact must include an up-to-date name and address for the creditor, the consequences of failure to pay, and the amount you owe.
Contacting You at Work
Federal agencies are not allowed to contact you at work if your employer does not approve of such contact. They are also strictly regulated as to what they may and may not say to you. Threats are no-nos, and creditors aren’t allowed to threaten to seize your property, arrest you, garnish your wages, or threaten you with nonexistent lawsuits unless legal action is actually pending. Falsehood and misleading behavior is also frowned upon — the amount owed must be properly represented and representatives are not allowed to pose as police officers or lawyers.
Crossing the Line
How do you know if a debt collector has crossed the line? If you feel abused, harassed, conned or that your privacy has been violated, a violation of federal law may have occurred. Debt collectors should never lie to you about their identity or pressure you through threats of legal or criminal action. If you feel that the debt collector has violated federal or state law, get in touch with an experienced consumer credit counselor as soon as possible to evaluate your options.
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