Can Debt Collectors Contact Relatives About My Debt?

Man talking on phone

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Debt collector calls are annoying enough when they’re calling you, but when debt collectors contact your family members about your debt it gets embarrassing. There's a limit to what debt collectors can say when they contact your family members. If debt collectors are giving out information to your relatives, rather than getting information, they’re breaking the law.

Why Do Debt Collectors Contact Family Members

If a debt collector has been trying unsuccessfully to get in contact with you, they'll use other methods to try to get to you. That may include calling your family members to figure out the best way to contact you.

It’s easier than you think for debt collectors to find your relatives. They use many of the same methods to locate your relatives that they use to locate you. For example, debt collectors can easily find your relatives if you've previously shared an address with them. The internet has made it easier than ever to find these connections with just the click of a few buttons.

Is it Legal?

It's not against the law for debt collectors to contact your family members. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act allows debt collectors to contact other people to locate you, but there are limits on what they can say. Debt collectors can only contact your family to locate you, not to collect money for your debt, and they’re generally only allowed to contact a person once. If the collector later believes your family member gave them false information, they’re allowed to contact the family member again.

When debt collector contact your family, certain topics are off limits. They can’t reveal that they’re working for a collection agency unless the relative “expressly requests” this information, i.e. they ask “Who do you work for?” or “Who is your employer?” And if the collector already has your address and phone number, they’re not allowed to contact your relatives at all.

Debt collectors aren’t allowed to tell your family about your debt unless you’re a minor under age 18 or the family member cosigned the debt with you. Otherwise, they’re breaking the law. You can sue a collection agency who violates this right.

Even without directly telling your family members that you owe a debt, the collector may hope that by simply contacting your relatives about your “important business matter” that you’ll be inspired to pay off the debt, if for no other reason than to prevent further embarrassment.

How to Stop Collectors From Contacting Your Family

Since the collector’s ultimate goal is to get you to pay your debt, one of the easiest ways to get them to stop contacting your family is to pay the debt. Only do this if you’ve confirmed that the debt is legitimately yours and you've reviewed your budget to be sure you can afford to pay it. Don’t try to get debt collectors off your back by making a promise to pay if you can’t actually make good on the promise. A payment agreement will restart the statute of limitations and a broken payment may cause the debt collector to escalate collection efforts.

You can request the debt collector stop contacting you about the debt, but you must make the request in writing by sending a cease and desist letter.

If you’re already in contact with a debt collector who threatens to tell your family about your debt, they’re breaking the law. They’re not allowed to contact your family once they’ve located you and since this is a threat they cannot legally follow through on, they’re in violation of the FDCPA.

You can report a debt collector has overcommunicated about your debt to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Finally, consider speaking with an attorney about suing a collection agency who’s violated your rights by telling your family members about your debt.