Being contacted by a debt collector is embarrassing. If you’ve never been contacted by a debt collector I hope your string of positive fortune continues because those of us that have understand how depleting it can be. Although it is in no way a reflection of who you are as a human being, it’s hard not to think less of yourself during the brief period that you are forced to communicate with a debt collector.
Given the discomfort associated with debt collectors, surprisingly few Americans understand their rights when they are approached by some one or some organization attempting to collect a debt. I have personal insight into this lack of understanding for I too have fallen prey to a debt collector. When I was in Law School I was contacted by a debt collector attempting to collect a sum of money from me. Now you may be thinking, “if you were in law school shouldn’t you have had some grasp of your rights or at least some idea of a proper course of action?” Sadly no, while I learned a great deal in law school such as the limits of the constitution, how to perform legal research, and which of my professors refused to use deodorant, I learned appalling little about my rights as a consumer.
The debt collector claimed that I owed a certain amount of money on an account that I had already paid off. I absolutely positive still to this day that I had already paid off the entire amount of this debt and I continuously conveyed this sentiment to the debt collector. The debt collector would simply say, “our records indicate that you still owe blah blah blah on your account.” I had no idea what to do, eventually I paid off the account (for a second time) because I mistakenly thought there was nothing I could do. I’m a Consumer Protection attorney, I regularly deal with debt collectors. Yet there was a time that I was so intimidated and uninformed of my rights that I, of my own volition, gave money to a debt collector to satisfy a debt that I had already paid off. I often fantasize about getting into a Delorean, gunning it up to 88 mph, and traveling back in time to stop my past self from falling victim to some debt collector. While I’m there maybe I’d take my past self shopping for pants that actually fit but first I’d stop myself from making a payment to that debt collector.
Don’t make the same mistake I made. Know your rights if you’re contacted by a debt collector. All debt collectors must comply with a federal statute entitled the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). A consumer is permitted to bring a civil action against any debt collector that fails to comply with any of the provisions of the FDCPA. When a debt collector contacts a consumer for the first time, that debt collector is required to provide that consumer with certain information within five days. The debt collector must inform the consumer of the amount of the debt, the name of the creditor that is actually owed the debt, and a statement that the debt collector will assume the debt is valid if the consumer takes no action within 30 days after receiving the notice of the debt. The information sent to the consumer must also inform a consumer that they can dispute the validity of the debt in writing directly to the debt collector who must then CEASE all collection efforts and VERIFY that the consumer does in fact owe the debt. If a debt collector cannot show that a consumer owes a debt then they may not collect the debt, they are no longer permitted to contact the consumer, and they may not report the debt to any of the consumer’s credit reports.
This is but one of the mechanisms a consumer can use in his/her fight against a debt collector. There are many more rules within the FDCPA which limit a debt collectors interactions with a consumer and makes a debt collector liable to a consumer if it acts in a manner that is either harassing or fraudulent. Hopefully this small chunk of information can help you through any interactions with a debt collector, if not then perhaps you would like to join me in my search for a Delorean time machine?