Can a Debt Collector Fax My Employer?
Debbie contacted us because a debt collector had sent a fax to her employer.
The fax was on the header of a collection agency.
Right at the top of the fax was her Social Security number, available to anyone who happened to grab it from the fax machine.
The fax asked for her job title, dates of employment, and salary.
The fax had a “case number” and stated that “This Law Office is investigating [Debbie] on pending charges out of [consumer’s County]. Please complete & return promptly. We also would like a copy provided to [Debbie].”
Is this legal?
In a word, “No.”
It is a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
The FDCPA allows a debt collector to contact an employer to obtain an employee’s location information, if the collector does not already have it. That is a big “if.”
“Location information” is a consumer’s place of residence and his telephone number at such place, or his place of employment. Requesting any additional information is illegal unless the collector has a judgment.
The collector seeking to locate a consumer must identify himself by personal name, state that he is attempting to obtain or confirm the consumer’s location, and, only if expressly requested, identify his employer.
The collector may not volunteer the name of the collection agency.
The collector may not state that such consumer owes any debt.
He may not communicate more than once unless requested to do so by such person or unless the debt collector reasonably believes that the earlier response of such person is erroneous or incomplete and that such person now has correct or complete location information.
The collector may not communicate by post card. The collector may not use any language or symbol on any envelope or in the contents of any communication effected by the mails or telegram that indicates that the debt collector is in the debt collection business or that the communication relates to the collection of a debt. Since a fax has the same characteristics — anyone can see the message — it should also be unlawful, unless the collector has been asked to send a writing and ascertained that only an authorized person will see it. Finally, after the debt collector knows the consumer is represented by an attorney with regard to the subject debt and has knowledge of, or can readily ascertain, such attorney’s name and address, he may not communicate with any person other than that attorney, unless the attorney fails to respond within a reasonable period of time to communication from the debt collector.
The fax goes way beyond what is permitted, and subjects the debt collector to liability under the FDCPA. Among other things:
The collector volunteered his company name, which is not permitted.
The collector asked for information that is not permitted.
The collector referred to the debt and implied that the consumer had engaged in illegal conduct.
The reference to a “case number” implies that litigation exists, which is probably false.
The collector asked that the employer communicate with the consumer, which is illegal: a debt collector may never ask an employer, neighbor, etc., to get a message to the consumer. This is a common way of pressuring consumers to pay debts. It is also illegal.
Finally, an employer is not required to respond to a request for information.