The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) was originally designed to protect debtors against abusive actions taken by collection agencies when they are pursuing a debt. There are numerous violations that may cause penalties against the debt collector to be paid to the borrowers or applied to the balance of the account. Two of the most important are prohibitions regarding communications with third parties and harassment of debtors.
Throughout the history of the FDCPA, court cases have been defining what is and is not a violation of the Act. Collection agencies and collection lawyers are the types of business that receive the most complaints by consumers though the Federal Trade Commission. The two most common complaints the FTC receives regarding collectors involve claims of harassment and collection agencies pursuing more than is really due.
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A number of recent decisions in court cases have helped flesh out some of the issues regarding harassment and collectors contacting third parties (such as a borrower’s brother or coworker). In many cases, debtors that just defend against such actions can uncover numerous violations of the law by collection agencies. The borrowers may owe the money, but if the collector can not prove it owns the debt or has broken the law, its claims to recover may suffer severely.
In terms of communications with third parties in the collection of an account, debt collectors are not allowed to leave messages with family members of the debtor and request that they be conveyed through the third party to the borrowers. Failing to leave required notices may also be considered a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
Debt collection companies and lawyers must also protect borrower information when sending letters in the mail. One court found that a collector violated the FDCPA when it sent a letter to debtors with a window envelope where anyone could see information about the debt being referred to, including the creditor and the account number.
As well, debt collectors are not allowed to discuss or sell borrower information to nonaffiliated third parties. Collection agencies may not be allowed to make even more money from taking the personal information of debtors and selling them to marketing partners, poor credit card partners, transfer credit card partners, and others. This would be a clear action of communicating with third parties while collecting a debt.
Harassment is also a huge complaint of borrowers against collection agencies, as mentioned above. Collectors may call at all hours of the day, at work, home, on cell phones, and to family members of the debtor. While they are required to cease such communications if informed by the borrowers, collection agencies have been known to keep pursuing debts in violation of such laws. Repeated rude, threatening phone calls have been found to be a violation of the FDCPA.
For example, one collection agency actually had its agents visit a borrower’s home to deliver lawsuit papers and shout outside in a loud voice. They repeatedly yelled the debtor’s name and shouted things like “you need to get your ass out here and open your gate now,” and “you need to come out and get these legal papers now.” One court has found this behavior to be a violation of the prohibition against harassment.
Debtors should also watch out for collection agencies attempting to get them to admit things both the borrowers and debt collector know to be untrue. Even though the collector’s own records showed that a payment had been made, it attempted, though the court discovery process, to get the borrowers to admit it had not been made. The court found this behavior to be abusive, unfair, and an unconscionable practice which violated the FDCPA.
Collection agencies use a lot of devious tactics to pursue debts that they do not even really own. They seem to rely on harassment, deception, and embarrassing borrowers to extract money to keep them quiet. But once they come across a borrower willing to pursue the issue and challenge the debt and the collection practices in court, debt collectors are often found to be in violation of federal lending laws. If the debts they are collecting are legitimate, why is it so difficult for these companies and lawyers to follow a few simple laws?