If you have fallen behind on paying your bills, in this economy you’re not alone. Like many in this position, you may start receiving calls from collection agencies regarding your debts. Although you may actually owe the debts, you have certain protections against creditor harassment under federal law.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is a federal law that protects you from abusive and misleading debt collection tactics. This law applies to all personal, household and family debts, such as credit cards, medical bills and other consumer-related bills. However, the act does not apply to debts that are incurred in the course of running a business.
The FDCPA applies whether or not the debtor had filed for bankruptcy. However, if the debtor files bankruptcy, he or she receives even more protection under the automatic stay.
What the FDCPA prohibits
The primary purpose of the FDCPA is to protect consumers against certain debt collection practices such as:
- Calling debtors at times that are inconvenient (before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.) without the debtor’s permission
- Intending to harass or annoy the debtor by calling them excessively
- Contacting the debtor knowing that he or she is represented by an attorney
- Using threats of imprisonment, violence or harm or obscene language when attempting to collect the debt
- Making false or misleading statements
- Threatening to attach, seize or sell the debtor’s property when there is no intention or legal basis to do so
Penalties for noncompliance
The FDCPA provides rather steep penalties for debt collectors that violate the law. Under the act, the debtor is entitled to file a lawsuit to recover any damages that he or she suffered as a result of the violations. In addition, the debtor can be awarded up to $1,000 for each violation of the act, even if there is no proof that he or she was damaged by the violations. Finally, the violator can be held liable for the debtor’s attorneys’ fees and court costs incurred because of the lawsuit.
Despite the act’s penalties, many debt collectors believe that the public is ignorant of their legal rights, leading them to think that they can get away with unlawful tactics. If you are being harassed by creditors, contact an experienced bankruptcy attorney to stop the harassing phone calls. In addition to addressing the issue of creditor harassment, an attorney can consider your debt situation and recommend a remedy that would be best for your circumstances.