ITRC Fact Sheet 116A
Your Debt Collection Rights
This section is not intended to be a complete or official summary of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The FDCPA is enforced on the federal level by the Federal Trade Commission. It provides the legal framework and restrictions for collection agencies in how they conduct their business. There may also be additional regulations in the state where you reside that provide further consumer protection.
Keep in mind that the FDCPA laws were intended for use in governing third party debt collectors when working with the true consumer that allegedly owes the debts and was not meant to specifically address identity theft. The FDCPA was not created as a tool for an individual to avoid paying a valid debt. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous consumers are claiming identity theft to avoid their true obligations.
- A debt collector is a person (or agency) who uses interstate commerce or the mail for the collection of a debt. This includes those who regularly collect or attempt to collect, directly or indirectly, debts owed or due or asserted to be owed or due to another. This collector can be an independent company, attorney or a division of a larger company (i.e., the hospital, store or bank). Debt collectors may work on a commission basis or purchase the debt outright and collect on it for themselves.
- Notification: The collection agency must notify you in writing within 5 days of a first phone call. The written notice must include:
- Amount you owe
- The name of the creditor and address upon written request.
- A statement that you have the right to dispute the claim, and that unless the consumer disputes the debt within 30 days, it will be assumed to be valid.
- How to dispute the bill.
- The identity of the collection agency and that the notice is being sent by a debt collector.
- If the consumer notifies the debt collector in writing within 30 days, the collector must stop collection actions until the debt is verified with the original creditor and a copy of the verification is mailed to the consumer.
- A collector can contact people who aren't directly involved in your debt to get information on where you live and work, as long as it is not a communication about the debt. The collector must state his name, but only give the name of his employer if the person specifically asks him to. He may only contact each person once, unless he believes that the person gave incorrect or incomplete information at the time, but now has complete or updated information.
- You may send a written request that the collector stop all contact with you. The collector may then contact you only once more, to advise you as to what legal or other action the collector or creditor intends to take, or to inform you that you will no longer be contacted. Be aware of the possible consequences of invoking this provision. Once you have stopped communication with a collection agency, the agency may initiate legal action or return your account to the original creditor for legal action, depending upon the type, circumstances and amount of the debt, the policies of the creditor and the laws in your state. If a court enters a judgment against you, the judgment creditor may pursue remedies such as repossession, liens or wage garnishment. The cease communication provision can protect you from an abusive collector. It won’t, however, resolve the problem of the unpaid debt.
- A collection agency cannot:
- Pretend to be someone else
- Contact you by postcard
- Call before 8 A.M. or after 9 P.M. (unless the collection agency has reason to believe that another time is more appropriate, such as when the consumer works the swing shift), or at a time known to be inconvenient to the consumer
- Threaten physical harm to the consumer or his/her property
- Use obscene language
- Publish or advertise your name
- Cause your phone to ring or engage any person in conversation repeatedly with the intent to annoy, abuse or harass any person at the called number
- Contact you directly if you advise them to speak only with your attorney and contact information is provided
- Contact you at work once the collector knows that the employer has prohibited this type of communication
- Contact your employer except to verify employment, business location, medical insurance, garnish wages (but only with a court judgment), and when contact was first tried in writing with no response within 15 days
- Contact third parties (e.g. family) except to find out where you live. The collector may speak with your spouse.
- Unfair business practices:
- Collecting any amount above that which is expressly allowed by law or the agreement which created the debt
- Taking or threatening to take any non-judicial action to attach property
- Communicating with a consumer by postcard regarding a debt
- Using any language or symbol, other than the debt collector’s address, on an envelope when communicating with a consumer by mail. The name of the business may be used only if it does not indicate that the collection agency is a debt collection business
- Sending papers that look like legal documents but are not actually legal documents.
- Using any false, deceptive or misleading representation of a debt
- Representing that nonpayment will result in the arrest of a person or the seizure of property unless that action is lawful and the agency intends to take that action.
- Credit reporting agency laws that may apply entitle you:
- to see a copy of your credit report
- to a free copy of your credit report if you are on welfare, denied credit, a victim of fraud or unemployed and looking for work
- to learn who has received a copy of your credit report
- to the right to learn why credit was denied to you
- to dispute inaccurate information and require the credit reporting agency to conduct an investigation within 30 days of receiving written notice of the inaccuracy
- Prohibition on Sale or Transfer of Debt Caused by Identity Theft. Generally, a collection agency cannot sell, transfer or try to collect on a debt that has resulted from identity theft.