There are many instances of debt collectors using deceitful, unlawful, and corrupt practices against consumers who may or may not owe a debt. To protect consumers, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) has strict guidelines about what debt collectors can and cannot do when attempting to collect a debt from you. They can only call you between certain hours, must inform you that they're a debt collector attempting to collect a debt, they cannot harass you, and must stop calling you after you've sent a written letter asking them to stop calling you.
Knowing Your Rights
As a consumer, you must be aware of your rights with debt collectors, even if you don't have any accounts that are currently in collections. At any time in the future, debt collectors could try to get you to pay a debt you don't owe—which is a top complaint against debt collectors—or contact you to find out information about a friend or relative who does owe a debt.
Keep a record of your interactions with debt collectors. Each time you receive or answer a phone call, jot detailed notes what you talked about and file these notes away with any correspondence with the debt collector. If you later file a lawsuit or complaint against the debt collector, these documents will help support your case.
What to Do If a Debt Collector Violates the FDCPA
You have the right to take certain actions against a debt collector that violates the FDCPA. Here are your options:
File a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is an independent government agency responsible for enforcing laws to protects consumer rights in the financial industry. Once you've sent a complaint, the CFPB can investigate your complaint and other complaints against that collector and penalize them for breaking the law. In some cases, consumers may be entitled to a partial refund of fees paid to a debt collector who has violated the FDPCA.
File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission
The CFPB is the best place to file a complaint about debt collection practices, but if a debt collector has scammed you or you're receiving telemarketing calls, even though you're on the Do Not Call registry, you may also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can file complaints against the original creditor collecting the debt, debt collectors acting on behalf of the original creditor, or companies offering credit counseling or repair.
The Federal Trade Commission doesn't respond to individual complaints, but they do require companies to refund consumers if there are enough complaints of losses.
File a complaint with your state's attorney general
Many states also have laws regarding fair debt collection practices that may provide more consumer protection than the federal FDCPA. Like the CFPB, your state attorney general can take legal action against a debt collector who violates the law. The National Association of Attorneys General has a list of every state's Attorney General, so you can easily find yours.
File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau
While the Better Business Bureau (BBB) cannot take legal action against debt collectors who violate the FDCPA, they can help mediate disputes against debt collectors. The BBB also reports consumer complaints against businesses and helps warn other consumers about problems with particular debt collectors.
File a civil suit in your state or federal court
The FDPCA gives you the right to sue a debt collector who has violated your rights. You're allowed to sue for up to $1,000, including damages. Consult with a consumer rights attorney to discuss your case. The debt collector, however, will not be legally liable if they can provide substantial evidence that the violation wasn't intentional and resulted from an error.
What to Include in Your Complaint
When you file a complaint or lawsuit against a debt collector, include as much evidence supporting your claim as possible. This should include:
- dates and times of phone calls
- name of the collection agency
- name of the person you spoke with
- specific details about the violation
Keep in mind that winning a lawsuit against a debt collector for violating the FDCPA doesn't erase any debt you legally owe. You may still be obligated to pay the balance unless you are suing the debt collector for collecting a fraudulent debt.