Consumers need to know that protection against unscrupulous collection practices is in place through the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The Act covers any collection activity related to a credit card, personal loan, auto loan, medical bill and even your mortgage. A creditor cannot, for example, contact a debtor about a debt owed during inconvenient times, i.e. before 8:00am and after 9:00pm. Creditors are not allowed to contact other people about a person’s debt but may inquire about their location. If a creditor does make contact with the debtor, the creditor must send the debtor a validation of the debt owed. This validation must include the name of the original creditor which includes a procedure if the debtor does not believe the debt is valid. The debtor can also send a letter to the collector advising them to stop contacting you which they must do, however, should the creditor send the debtor a validation letter, then they may begin contact again. Additionally, if the debtor is represented by an attorney, the creditor must contact the attorney and not the debtor for any questions.

Under the FDCPA, creditors cannot harass, oppress, or abuse the debtor or any third parties. They cannot use threats of violence or harm. They cannot publish list of names of those who refuse to pay or use obscene or profane language. They are not permitted to use the phone repeatedly to annoy someone. Debt collectors cannot lie to obtain information about a debt, they cannot falsely claim a crime has been committed, or misrepresent the amount of money owed. Debt collectors cannot tell you that you will go to jail for not paying a debt or threaten to garnish wages without a court order. A debt collector can only garnish wages or bank accounts after they have obtained an Order which has been signed by a State Court judge. If a creditor is successful in getting a garnishment order from a state court, that creditor cannot garnish the following: Social Security Benefits; Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits; Veterans’ Benefits; Civil Service and Federal Retirement and Disability Benefits; Service Members’ Pay; Military Annuities and Survivors’ Benefits; Student Assistance; Railroad Retirement Benefits; Merchant Seamen Wages; Longshoremen’s and Harbor Workers’ Death and Disability Benefits; Foreign Service Retirement and Disability Benefits; Compensation for Injury, Death, or Detention of Employees of U.S. Contractors Outside of the U.S.; or Federal Emergency Management Agency Federal Disaster Assistance. However, should a debt be related to delinquency of taxes, alimony, child support or student loans, then garnishment is allowed.

If a debtor believes that a creditor or collection agency has violated the rules of the FDCPA, he or she can sue the creditor in state or federal court within one year of the date of the violation. A debtor can and should report violations to his or her state Attorney General’s office (www.naag.org) and the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov).