So, a third party is your neighbor. Your co-worker. Your child or your parent. Anyone other than you or your spouse or attorney.
What Can A Collector Ask Of A Third Party?
A collection agency or debt collector can only ask for what is known as "location information" from a third party.
The FDCPA is very specific - location information is only:
(1) Your home phone;
(2) Your home address; and
(3) Your place of employment.
Anything beyond that is not "location information" and will likely violate the FDCPA.
What Are Some Examples Of Illegal Things Collectors Ask Third Parties?
The most common example of illegal third party contacts is when a collector asks the third party to "give the consumer a message." This may not seem like a big deal if the debt is not revealed but when you consider the effect, it makes sense that this is a violation of the law.
The FDCPA is very strict about not contacting third parties to collect the debt. A collector can only use a third party to gain location information if the collector does not have it.
So, if a collector asks a third party to pass along a message they have now involved the third party in collecting the debt. The idea is to have your neighbors or family members come up to you and let you know they have been talking to the debt collector. This is very intimidating.
Collectors even have names for this. When they call your neighbors it is known as a "block party" and when they call multiple co-workers it is known as an "office party."
The only purpose of this is to intimidate you into paying.
If A Collector Breaks The Law In Calling A Third Party, What Can I Do?
We'll cover this in more detail in another guide but the simple answer is this:
(1) Document the illegal contact;
(2) Consult with a consumer litigation attorney in your area; and
(3) Sue if and when appropriate.
You can obtain the following relief for illegal third party contacts:
(1) Up to $1000 in statutory damages if you don't have any actual damages (not updated since 1977 but still its a $1000....);
(2) All actual damages;
(3) Attorney fees; and
(4) Costs and expenses in bringing and litigating the case.
If a debt collector is calling third parties, ask yourself these questions:
(1) Does the debt collector already have my location information?
(2) What did the collector tell or reveal to the third party (i.e. was it anything more than a request for location information)?
(3) Do I have documentation of the contact - i.e. the third party has written down the contact or emailed you the details, etc.?
This is a favorite abusive tactic and the debt collectors that do this are not shy about it. They do it for one reason - it works!
If you are a victim of this, you now have at least a basic understanding of your rights. Learn whatever else you need to learn and then take action! Don't let the collectors get away with this. If you don't stand up to them, who will? What will stop them from continuing to call other third parties to embarrass and harass you?