Let’s say you owe money. This could be a medical bill, old cell phone bill or even a delinquent credit card balance that a lot of late right now. Now you have an annoying collection agent calling you throughout the day and even on weekends and you find yourself screening every call that comes through. You might as well have debt collector PTSD. You hide from phone calls, avoid opening the mail, have nightmares about being yelled at by a debt collector – the whole thing is just a mess!
Have you been there? Maybe you have, it’s possible you haven’t. But if so, let’s talk about how to get rid of the collection agent.
Here’s the thing, delinquencies happen. Sometimes we forget to pay a bill and it gets forwarded to a collections agency who then starts harassing you for payment. But before you succumb to their harassment it’s best to know the rules by which they ought to be playing:
The FDCPA was established to prevent collection agency abuse of customers. The following list of prohibited conduct can be costly for a collection agency if found in violation.
FCPA Prohibited conduct
The Act prohibits certain types of “abusive and deceptive” conduct when attempting to collect debts, including the following:
- Hours for phone contact: contacting consumers by telephone outside of the hours of 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. local time
- Failure to cease communication upon request: communicating with consumers in any way (other than litigation) after receiving written notice that said consumer wishes no further communication or refuses to pay the alleged debt, with certain exceptions, including advising that collection efforts are being terminated or that the collector intends to file a lawsuit or pursue other remedies where permitted
- Causing a telephone to ring or engaging any person in telephone conversation repeatedly or continuously: with intent to annoy, abuse, or harass any person at the called number.
- Communicating with consumers at their place of employment after having been advised that this is unacceptable or prohibited by the employer
- Contacting consumer known to be represented by an attorney
- Communicating with consumer after request for validation has been made: communicating with the consumer or the pursuing collection efforts by the debt collector after receipt of a consumer’s written request for verification of a debt made within the 30 day validation period (or for the name and address of the original creditor on a debt) and before the debt collector mails the consumer the requested verification or original creditor’s name and address
- Misrepresentation or deceit: misrepresenting the debt or using deception to collect the debt, including a debt collector’s misrepresentation that he or she is an attorney or law enforcement officer
- Publishing the consumer’s name or address on a “bad debt” list
- Seeking unjustified amounts, which would include demanding any amounts not permitted under an applicable contract or as provided under applicable law
- Threatening arrest or legal action that is either not permitted or not actually contemplated
- Abusive or profane language used in the course of communication related to the debt
- Communication with third parties: revealing or discussing the nature of debts with third parties (other than the consumer’s spouse or attorney) (Collection agencies are allowed to contact neighbors or co-workers but only to obtain location information; disreputable agencies often harass debtors with a “block party” or “office party” where they contact multiple neighbors or co-workers telling them they need to reach the debtor on an urgent matter.)
- Contact by embarrassing media, such as communicating with a consumer regarding a debt by post card, or using any language or symbol, other than the debt collector’s address, on any envelope when communicating with a consumer by use of the mails or by telegram, except that a debt collector may use his business name if such name does not indicate that he is in the debt collection business
- Reporting false information on a consumer’s credit report or threatening to do so in the process of collection
Here’s what they should be doing:
- Identify themselves and notify the consumer, in every communication, that the communication is from a debt collector, and in the initial communication that any information obtained will be used to effect collection of the debt
- Give the name and address of the original creditor (company to which the debt was originally payable) upon the consumer’s written request made within 30 days of receipt of the §1692g notice;
- Notify the consumer of their right to dispute the debt (Section 805), in part or in full, with the debt collector. The 30-day “§1692g” notice is required to be sent by debt collectors within five days of the initial communication with the consumer, though in 2006 the definition of “initial communication” was amended to exclude “a formal pleading in a civil action” for purposes of triggering the §1692g notice, complicating the matter where the debt collector is an attorney or law firm. The consumer’s receipt of this notice starts the clock running on the 30-day right to demand verification of the debt from the debt collector.
- Provide verification of the debt If a consumer sends a written dispute or request for verification within 30 days of receiving the §1692g notice, then the debt collector must either mail the consumer the requested verification information or cease collection efforts altogether. Such asserted disputes must also be reported by the creditor to any credit bureau that reports the debt. Verification should include at a minimum the amount owed and the name and address of the original creditor.
- File a lawsuit in a proper venue If a debt collector chooses to file a lawsuit, it may only be in a place where the consumer lives or signed the contract Note, however, that this does not prevent the debt collector from being sued in other venues for violating the Act, such as when the consumer moves outside the venue and a letter demanding payment is forwarded to the new address, even if the debt collector is unaware of such a change in residence.
Got it? So the next time a debt collector calls your home at 11pm local time you can let them know they are in violation of FDCPA and will file suit against them
Aggrieved consumers may also file a private lawsuit in a state or federal court to collect damages (actual, statutory, attorney’s fees, and court costs) from third-party debt collectors. The FDCPA is a strict liability law, which means that a consumer need not prove actual damages in order to claim statutory damages of up to $1,000 plus reasonable attorney fees if a debt collector is proven to have violated the FDCPA. (Source)
Here’s how you get rid of them:
Demand validation of the debt
Write the collection agency asking for validation of the debt. If the debt was sold to a 3rd party collection agency, this may be difficult for them to dig up. Your goal here is for them to prove that you owe the debt and they have the right to collect from you which has to do with your state’s statute of limitations. Here’s a sample letter demanding validation:
123 Your Street Address
Your City, ST 01234
123 NotOnYourLife Ave
Re: Acct # XXXX-XXXX-XXXX-XXXX
Dear Scumbag Collector:
This letter is being sent to you in response to a notice sent to me on February 15, 2007. Be advised that this is not a refusal to pay, but a notice sent pursuant to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 USC 1692g Sec. 809 (b) that your claim is disputed and validation is requested.
This is NOT a request for “verification” or proof of my mailing address, but a request for VALIDATION made pursuant to the above named Title and Section. I respectfully request that your offices provide me with competent evidence that I have any legal obligation to pay you.
Please provide me with the following:
* What the money you say I owe is for;
* Explain and show me how you calculated what you say I owe;
* Provide me with copies of any papers that show I agreed to pay what you say I owe;
* Provide a verification or copy of any judgment if applicable;
* Identify the original creditor;
* Prove the Statute of Limitations has not expired on this account
* Show me that you are licensed to collect in my state
* Provide me with your license numbers and Registered Agent
At this time I will also inform you that if your offices have reported invalidated information to any of the 3 major Credit Bureau’s (Equifax, Experian or TransUnion) this action might constitute fraud under both Federal and State Laws. Due to this fact, if any negative mark is found on any of my credit reports by your company or the company that you represent I will not hesitate in bringing legal action against you for the following:
* Violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act
* Violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
* Defamation of Character
If your offices are able to provide the proper documentation as requested in the following Declaration, I will require at least 30 days to investigate this information and during such time all collection activity must cease and desist.
Also during this validation period, if any action is taken which could be considered detrimental to any of my credit reports, I will consult with my legal counsel for suit. This includes any listing any information to a credit reporting repository that could be inaccurate or invalidated or verifying an account as accurate when in fact there is no provided proof that it is.
If your offices fail to respond to this validation request within 30 days from the date of your receipt, all references to this account must be deleted and completely removed from my credit file and a copy of such deletion request shall be sent to me immediately.
Is the debt within your state’s statute of limitations?
Every state is different, keep this first in mind so you must research your statute of limitations (SOL) on the type of debt in question. If the last payment made on the debt was 6 years and 10 months ago and your state’s SOL is 7 years then you’re in luck. Wait two months and the debt must legally be removed from your report. You should request payment information via mail because this forces them to send you the information validating last payment information. Don’t make any payments and for heaven’s sake do not admit to owing the debt as this is enough in some states to RESET your SOL. Stay off the phone! Here are links to a state by state break down of your SOL by debt type:
Cease and desist
Here’s a letter that you can use to request that all contact via phone cease immediately:
I would also like to request, in writing, that no telephone contact be made by your offices to my home or to my place of employment. If your offices attempt telephone communication with me, including but not limited to computer generated calls and calls or correspondence sent to or with any third parties, it will be considered harassment and I will have no choice but to file suit. All future communications with me MUST be done in writing and sent to the address noted in this letter by USPS.
It would be advisable that you assure that your records are in order before I am forced to take legal action. This is an attempt to correct your records, any information obtained shall be used for that purpose.
Here’s what we learned today now that we know our rights. Stay off the phone. Request validation of the debt and limit contact via cease and desist. Yes it’s great that you want to pay the debt but you have laws protecting you against unfair practices. Play by the rules to win. In doing so you preserve your credit and make sure that any debt owed is actually yours.