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The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
For many Americans dealing with debt collectors has become a way of life. If you owe money and are behind on your payments, chances are you have received one or more calls from collection agencies attempting to get you to pay some or the entire amount you owe. Fortunately, there are limits to what debt collectors can do. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act protects consumers by prohibiting debt collectors from using unfair, deceptive or abusive tactics.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, or FDCPA, is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission and applies to most kinds of personal debts such as credit card debt, home mortgages and medical bills. However, the FDCPA will not apply to debts incurred by a business.
Any person or company that regularly tries to collect debts is classified as a debt collector, including collection agencies and lawyers who collect debts. .
Basic protections under the Act
The FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from engaging in any way that could be considered unfair, deceptive or abusive. Some examples of things that debt collectors cannot doe are: use threats of harm or violence, use obscene language, purposely annoy the people in debt by calling them repetitively or publish a list all of the people who are not paying their debts. Debt collectors cannot lie and they cannot speculate about legal action that may be taken against an individual – for example, a debt collector cannot tell you that you will go to jail for refusing to pay a debt or threaten to garnish your wages if he or she is not legally permitted to do so. Lastly, the collectors are not allowed to use unfair practices, such as taking property wrongly or collecting fees that they do not deserve.
Consequences of violating the FDCPA
Debt collectors who violate the FDCPA can face serious consequences. A person who is harassed can file a suit in state or federal court for up to one year after the violation of the FDCPA occurred. If the suit is successful, the creditor can be forced to pay the claimant for the costs of any damages he or she actually suffered, attorney’s fees and court costs and up to $1000 even if no actual damage was suffered.
In addition to the FDCPA, many states have their own statutes that protect consumers from harassment by debt collectors. If you feel that you are being harassed by a creditor, speak to an experienced consumer protection attorney in your area to get help. An attorney may be able to stop creditor harassment, as well as tell you if you can make a claim against a debt collector for violating the FDCPA.