Q: A debt collector is doing things that I think are unfair. Are there limits to what a debt collector can do when trying to collect debts?
A: A federal law called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act limits what debt collectors can do in attempting to collect consumer debt. In general, the law does not apply to the original creditor, but only to third-party debt collectors and to companies who buy an account after it has been in default. These debt collectors are prohibited from doing things that are unfair or deceptive in attempts to collect a consumer debt. Examples of things that may be unfair and deceptive are:
• certain types of obscene or abusive language or threats of violence;
• many types of false statements;
• threats that the consumer will be arrested or imprisoned;
• using a false name;
• repeated phone calls made with the intent to annoy, abuse, or harass the consumer;
• calling the consumer at work after being told the consumer is not permitted to take such calls.
Q: Can debt collectors demand payment from other people such as my family members?
A: Generally, debt collectors can only contact third parties in an attempt to obtain a debtor’s contact information. Debt collectors should not contact third parties to inform them of the debt or to attempt to make the debtor pay.
Q: What should I do if a debt collector is trying to collect on an account I have already paid?
A: Within thirty days of the first written communication from the debt collector, send the debt collector a certified letter, return receipt requested. This letter should identify you and your account, state your objection, and attach proof of payment if available. The letter should also demand that the debt collector verify the debt and mail the result to you. You should keep copies of the letter, return receipt, and any response from the debt collector. Until the debt collector verifies the debt and sends you the result, the debt collector must stop attempting to collect.
Q: How can I make the debt collector stop calling me?
A: Send a letter by certified mail to the debt collector as described above. Provide your name, the account number and your phone number, and demand that the debt collector stop calling you. If the debt collector calls you after receiving your letter, the debt collector has violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Remember, however, one collection alternative then available to the debt collector is filing suit.
Q: What can I do if a debt collector has violated the FDCPA?
A: The FDCPA allows consumers to file a lawsuit against debt collectors for violations of the FDCPA. If you can prove your case, you may recover any actual damages and in addition, up to $1,000 in statutory damages plus attorney fees and court costs.
Law You Can Use is a weekly consumer legal information column provided as a public service of the Ohio State Bar Association. This article was prepared by Mansfield attorney Greg Reichenbach.