As real as debts are, so too is the profession of debt collection. While debt collection is an honest profession, it can occassionally turn ugly and abusive for consumers who owe debts. That is why in 1996, Congress enacted the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Congress found that there was an "abundant evidence of the use of abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection practices by many debt collectors". The Act gives consumers rights to maintain dignity and a life free from abuse about debts owed.
Generally, some of the more important provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act are:
- No contact with the consumer that is inconvenient, especially calls before 8am or after 9pm.
- Repeat calls are prohibited if the intent is to harass the consumer.
- If the consumer is known to be represented by an attorney, the debt collector may only contact the attorney. If the attorney does not respond within a reasonable period of time, the consumer may be contacted again.
- Debt information may not be shared with third parties, like family and friends, but they can contact them to verify information.
- Postcards may not be used to notify consumers of debt collection.
- Debt collectors may not make false representations, such as the police will come to get you (debts are not a criminal act), or threaten consumers if debts are not paid, or say they are attorneys when they are not.
Most importantly, you should ask the debt collector for proof of the debt. Some debt collectors "fish" for consumers who owe debts. They contact people with the same names, particularly in the same city. Secondly, you may ask the debt collector to stop calling you and/or your relatives or friends. While you may ask them verbally, it is best to ask the company in writing and send it via certified mail.
Debts are real and should be acknowledged and paid if possible. Avoiding debt collectors is not entirely possible, but consumers have protection agains harassment and abuse. If you believe your rights have been violated by a debt collector, contact the Federal Trade Commission at 877-FTC-HELP.