Are you getting calls from Debt Collectors about a Debt which is not yours? Did you know that Debt Collectors are prohibited from calling you about a Debt that is not yours even if it belongs to your spouse or other family member? There are State and Federal laws which protect your rights against Debt Collectors that unlawfully invade your privacy.
Because I talk to so many people who are unaware of their rights in this area, please review the basic overview of some of your rights under these Consumer Protection Laws to see if you’re entitled to damages.
The Florida Law on Debt Collection is the Florida Consumer Collections Practices Act or FCCPA.
Here are some questions and answers about your rights under the FCCPA.
► What types of debts are covered?
The FCCPA covers personal, family, and household debts, including money you owe on a personal credit card account, an auto loan, a medical bill, and your mortgage. The FCCPA doesn’t cover debts you incurred to run a business.
► Can a Debt Collector contact me any time or any place?
No. A Debt Collector may not contact you at inconvenient times or places, such as before 8 am or after 9 pm, unless you agree to it. And Collectors may not contact you at work if they’re told (orally or in writing) that you’re not allowed to get calls there.
► How can I stop a Debt Collector from contacting me?
If a Collector contacts you about a Debt and you don’t want the Collector to call you again, tell the Collector – in writing – to stop calling you. Here’s how to do that:
- Send a brief hand written letter telling the Debt Collector to stop calling and include the numbers you don’t want called.
- Make a copy of your letter. Send the original by certified mail, and pay for a “return receipt” so you’ll be able to document what the collector received. Sending this letter to a Debt Collector does not get rid of the Debt (if it’s actually owed), but it should stop the contact.
- If the Debt Collector does not cease calling, each call is a violation of the law. If they call your cell phone and that is a number you listed in the letter, the Debt Collector could be liable for $500.00 per call.
- IMPORTANT !!! Keep a call log of all calls to include the date and time of the call, the number called from, number called to, person who called or employee ID number, and notes about any conversation (especially about threats or abusive language).
► Can a Debt Collector contact anyone else about my Debt?
If an attorney is representing you about the debt, the Debt Collector must contact the attorney, rather than you. Generally, a Debt Collector may not discuss a Debt with a person that does not owe it, including extended family members, employers and neighbors.
► What does the Debt Collector have to tell me about the debt?
Every collector must send you a written “validation notice” telling you how much money you owe within five days after they first contact you. This notice also must include the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money, and how to proceed if you don’t think you owe the money.
Harassment – Debt Collectors may not harass, oppress, or abuse you or any third parties they contact. For example, they may not:
- threats of violence or harm;
- publish a list of names of people who refuse to pay their debts (but they can give this information to the credit reporting companies);
- use obscene or profane language; or
- repeatedly use the phone to annoy someone.
False statements – Debt Collectors may not lie when they are trying to collect a debt. For example, they may not:
- falsely claim that they are attorneys or government representatives;
- falsely claim that you have committed a crime;
- falsely represent that they operate or work for a credit reporting company;
- misrepresent the amount you owe;
- indicate that papers they send you are legal forms if they aren’t; or
- indicate that papers they send to you aren’t legal forms if they are.
Debt Collectors also are prohibited from saying that:
- you will be arrested if you don’t pay your debt;
- they’ll seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages unless they are permitted by law to take the action and intend to do so; or
- legal action will be taken against you, if doing so would be illegal or if they don’t intend to take the action.
Debt Collectors may not:
- give false credit information about you to anyone, including a credit reporting company;
- send you anything that looks like an official document from a court or government agency if it isn’t;
► Do I have any recourse if I think a Debt Collector has violated the law?
You have the right to sue a collector in a state or federal court within two years from the date the law was violated. If you win, the judge can require the collector to pay you for any damages you can prove you suffered because of the illegal collection practices, like lost wages and medical bills. The judge can require the Debt Collector to pay you up to $1,000, even if you can’t prove that you suffered actual damages. You also can be reimbursed for your attorney’s fees and court costs. Even if a Debt Collector violates the FCCPA in trying to collect a debt, the Debt does not automatically go away if you owe it.