Why Does It Matter If The FDCPA Applies?
So why should you care if the FDCPA applies? Several reasons: (1) It is a strict liability law which means for the most part if a debt collector (see section 4) violates the law (section 5) then the debt collector is liable. Most other laws require negligence or intentional violations but (in general) FDCPA violations can lead to damages to you. (2) You can receive statutory damages of up to $1,000 even if you have not been injured. This is to encourage you to bring the collector to justice - this is the incentive that Congress wants you to have. (3) You can receive compensatory or "actual damages" to compensate you for injuries you have suffered. This can be financial, loss of employment, credit report damages, or emotional distress. (4) Finally, you can be awarded attorneys fees and costs/expenses for litigation to pay for your lawyer. The collector will have to pay for its lawyer but if you win the collector may have to pay for your lawyer as well - poetic justice, eh?
First Requirement - You Must Be A Consumer
You must be a consumer for the FDCPA to apply. Not a business or a partnership but an actual human being. You don't necessarily have to actually owe any money (or even be accused of owing money) to qualify. For example, if a collector keeps calling you demanding you tell the collector where the debtor lives (a fairly common occurrence) then you can sue for harassment.
Second Requirement - The Debt Being Collected Must Be A Consumer Debt
The debt (or alleged debt) must not be exclusively a business debt. It needs to be for household or personal purposes - there are many exceptions and gray areas but for our purposes if it is not business debt it probably is "consumer debt".
Third Requirement - The Collector Must Be A "Debt Collector" Under The FDCPA
The person or company collecting must be a "debt collector" which basically means not the original creditor. If the collector bought the debt it is still a debt collector if it bought the debt after the debt was in default. One sort of unusual provision is the original creditor can be a debt collector if it uses a false name to collect under. An example is Tenant Hospitals - it has an in house collection agency that goes by the name of Syndicated Office Systems or Central Financial Control. Even though Tenant owns this it still is a debt collector because it sounds like a separate company or companies.
Fourth Requirement - The Debt Collector Must Have Violated The FDCPA
Technically if you are a consumer, with consumer debt, and a debt collector, then the FDCPA applies. . . but as a practical matter you must have a violation of the FDCPA for the law to matter to you. Here are the basic categories of violations then we'll look at some examples: (1) Lying to you; (2) Being unfair towards you; and (3) Treating you with a lack of respect or dignity. Here are some common examples: (1) Failing to leave the mini miranda when leaving a voicemail ("this is a debt collector and this is an attempt to collect a debt"; (2) Calling your neighbors (a "block" party) when the collector has your home phone, home address, and place of employment - same thing with calling your co-workers - known in the collection business as an "office" party; (3) Calling neighbors, friends or family and asking them to give you a message or revealing the debt; and (4) Suing you when there is no basis to do so. There are many other examples but these will give you an idea.
If the FDCPA applies and the collector has broken the law, then Congress intends for you to sue that collector. The FDCPA is designed to be enforced . . . not by the government . . . but by people just like you. Its the only way consumers can be protected and legitimate honorable debt collectors can be protected. Otherwise, the illegal and law breaking collectors get an unfair advantage over the honorable collectors. Suing the bad apples helps get rid of them or else encourages them to start acting the right way.