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DEBT COLLECTION PROTECTIONS UNDER THE LAW – PART 1

If you are a citizen of Florida and are behind on your bills, or a creditor has mistakenly indicated that you are, you may be contacted by a debt collector. There are both federal and state regulations that protect you, as a consumer, from these potentially abusive and intrusive practices. Know your rights and protections under the law. The first part of this series will examine the Federal law related to the aforementioned debt collection practices.

WHAT IS THE FDCPA AND WHAT IT IS DESIGNED TO DO

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), Pub. L. 95-109; 91 Stat. 874, codified as 15 U.S.C. § 1692 –1692p, approved on September 20, 1977 (and as subsequently amended) is a consumer protection amendment, establishing legal protection from abusive debt collection practices. Under the FDCPA, a debt collector is someone who regularly collects debts owed to others. This includes collection agencies, lawyers who collect debts on a regular basis, and companies that buy delinquent debts and then try to collect them. This does not include original creditors, however, you may have rights and protections under Florida state law if you are being contacted by an original creditor. (We will examine this law in part two of our series.) The statute’s stated purposes are: to eliminate abusive practices in the collection of consumer debts, to promote fair debt collection, and to provide consumers with an avenue for disputing and obtaining validation of debt information in order to ensure the information’s accuracy. The FDCPA creates guidelines under which debt collectors may conduct business, defines rights of consumers involved with debt collectors, and prescribes penalties and remedies for violations of the Act. [1]

WHO IS PROTECTED AND HOW YOU MAY BE CONTACTED

The FDCPA covers personal, family, and household debts, including money you owe on a personal credit card account, an auto loan, a medical bill, and your mortgage. The FDCPA does not cover debts you incurred to run a business. Under the law, it should be noted that debt collectors can contact you by phone, letter, e-mail or text message to collect a debt, assuming they first disclose that they are debt collectors and follow the rules that will be listed below. As a consumer, be cognizant of the fact that no matter how they communicate with you, it is against the law for a debt collector to pretend to be someone else — like an attorney or government agency — or to harass, threaten or deceive you. A debt collector may not contact you before 8 in the morning or after 9 at night, unless you agree to it. If collectors are told either orally or in writing that you’re not allowed to get calls at work, then they may be barred from contacting you at your place of employment. [2]

WHAT BEHAVIOR IS AGAINST THE LAW

The next question to examine is when debt collection practices cross the line into harassment and deception. Debt collectors may not harass, oppress, or abuse you or any third parties they contact. Threats of violence or harm, use of obscene or profane language, or repeatedly contacting via phone or e-mail in an effort to annoy someone are prohibited. Furthermore, debt collectors may not lie or misrepresent the truth when they are trying to collect a debt. Debt collectors have violated the law if they falsely claim that they are attorneys or government representatives, falsely claim that you have committed a crime, falsely represent that they operate or work for a credit reporting company, misrepresent the amount you owe, indicate that papers they send you are legal forms if they aren’t, or indicate that papers they send to you aren’t legal forms if they are. Also, debt collectors are prohibited from saying or indicating that you will be arrested if you fail to pay your debt, that they will seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages unless they are permitted by law to take the action and intend to do so, or that legal action will be taken against you, if doing so would be illegal or if they don’t intend to take the action. Debt collectors are further limited in that they cannot give false credit information about you to anyone, including a credit reporting company; send you anything that looks like an official document from a court or government agency if it is not; or use a false company name. Unfair practices such as attempting to collect any interest, fee, or other charge on top of the amount you owe unless the contract that created your debt – or your state law – allows the charge, depositing a post-dated check early or taking or threatening to take your property unless it can be done legally, or contacting you by postcard are all barred under the law. [3]

THE LIMITATIONS OF THE FDCPA

Remember that this Federal regulation only covers debt collectors and agencies. It does not apply to original creditors. Should you face abusive or deceptive debt collection practices from an original creditor you may seek relief and protection under the Florida Consumer Collection Protection Act, which we will explore the second installment of our debt collection protection series.

KOVAR LAE GROUP CAN HELP

If you believe you have been subject to unfair debt collection practices under the current law, the best thing you can do is seek the help of an experienced attorney. At Kovar Law Group we are well-versed in dealing with these issues and are proficient in gathering the required evidence to secure the best outcome possible. Schedule a free consultation with Kovar Law Group today.



[1] https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/fair-debt-collection-practices-act

[2] https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/rules/rulemaking-regulatory-reform-proceedings/fair-debt-collection-practices-act-text

[3] https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0149-debt-collection
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