The federal government offers debtors protection against abuse by debt collectors. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, or FDCPA, guarantees debtors these rights and imposes serious consequences on debt collectors who violate them. Unfortunately, most people don’t know their debt collection rights and allow debt collectors to abuse, harass or coerce them into paying more than they can afford.

Right #1: Freedom from Harassment
Debt collectors have the right to contact you to ask for money, but they don’t have the right to harass you. The FDCPA outlines several behaviors that debt collectors are not allowed to engage in.

  • Overly frequent phone calls. Debt collectors can only call you a few times per day. They are also not allowed to make back-to-back phone calls; the calls must be spaced several hours apart.
  • Calls at unreasonable hours. debt collectors cannot call between the hours of 8 PM and 8 AM unless they’ve received special permission from you to do so.
  • Calls at work. If you tell a debt collector not to call you at your place of business, he or she must respect that request.

Right #2: The Right to Privacy
If everybody knew how much money you owed, it might put your job or your reputation at risk. You would also be at risk of extortion–someone could force you to do something to avoid revealing the debt to someone else. For these reasons, the FDCPA has provisions to protect your privacy as a debtor.

  • Debt collectors cannot discuss your debt with anyone else. Co-signers on loans are an exception because they are equally liable for your debt.
  • Debt collectors cannot leave details of your debt on voicemail because other people might have access to the voicemail account. Most debt collectors do not leave any voicemail message at all for this reason.
  • Debt collectors must verify that they are speaking to you before talking about the debt. They cannot leave a message for you through someone else that identifies them as debt collectors.
  • In some cases, social media exchanges may be considered violations of privacy. The government is considering how the FDCPA applies to social media use.

Right #3: Freedom from Abuse
When you do talk a debt collector, you don’t have to put up with abusive behavior. Debt collectors are not allowed to verbally abuse you, use profanity or scream at you. They also are not allowed to make threats they don’t intend to carry out.

If a debt collector ignores or violates these rules, he or she may face hefty fines and penalties; violations may even make debt collectors liable in a civil lawsuit. Should a debt collector try to harass you in violation of these rules, tell him or her that the behavior is in violation of your FDCPA rights, end the call and contact your attorney.

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