One tactic that debt collectors like to use to make money at your expense is trying to get you to pay money you do not owe. A debt collector may do this intentionally or because the creditor has failed to pay any attention to detail. Either way, you may get a notice of a debt that you do not believe you owe at all. In this event, you have some protections under federal law. If the debt collector violates your rights, you can file a lawsuit for financial compensation. First, you should contact a san-diego consumer protection attorney.
Take Steps to Confirm Your Debt Before Paying
You should always confirm that the debt belongs to you before you pay it. Debt collection agencies often make errors. They have bought a large batch of debt and are trying to collect as much as possible. You can expect that they have done little to no research before they have contacted you.
Alternatively, the debt collector can have invented a fictitious debt they are trying to collect from you. Debt collectors have been known to use fraudulent practices, victimizing unsuspecting consumers. Some will automatically panic when they get a debt collector’s letter, thinking they are in legal trouble. Debt collectors may try to take advantage of this fear to get you to do whatever they want.
The Debt Collector Must Send You a Validation Letter
To that end, the debt collector must send you a validation letter within five days after their initial contact with you. This requirement comes from the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). You should not have to ask for a verification letter.
An FDCPA validation letter should include the following information:
- The name of the creditor to which you owe money
- The amount that the creditor says you owe
What Does an FDCPA Validation Letter Contain?
Then, there are several critical statements in the debt validation letter that you must take very seriously:
- The letter must inform you that you have 30 days to dispute the debt, or else the collector will assume that it is valid
- A statement that the debt collector must provide information about the original creditor within 30 days if you request it
- A statement that if you write to dispute the debt or request more information about the debt within 30 days after the initial letter, the debt collector will verify the debt by mail
You Need to Request Verification of Your Debt
The debt validation letter tells you the ball is in your court if you want to dispute the debt. If you do nothing, the debt collector can continue collection efforts because they assume you have no issue with the letter’s contents. They may even report your account to the credit bureau as past due if you do not dispute that you owe them money.
From your standpoint, you should be as vigilant as possible about disputing information in the debt collection letter you believe to be wrong. It can be that you believe that you do not owe the money at all. The claimed debt can represent the money you have already paid or that someone else owes (not you). Alternatively, you may believe that the debt collector has the wrong amount.
You can request that the debt collector send you a debt verification letter. This request must be in writing. Preferably, you should send it through certified mail so you have evidence that the debt collector received the letter. You are requesting information about the debt to confirm the information you have received is correct.
The Debt Collector Must Provide You with Information
You can ask for the following information:
- Why a debt collector thinks you owe this debt
- The amount of the debt and how old it is
- Details about the debt collector’s authority to collect this money
The debt collector does not necessarily have to respond with all of the information that you ask for, but they do have to give you:
- Information on the original creditor
- The amount of money owed
- The name of the person who owes the debt
Verification Could Put the Brakes on an Aggressive Collector
The request for a debt verification letter has several benefits. Besides asking that the debt collector make sure you really owe the money, it can also slow the process when an overaggressive debt collector contacts you. If the debt collector will not send you the letter or make other threats in the interim, they can be violating federal law and opening themselves up to a lawsuit.
The debt collector cannot do the following:
- Fail to provide you with the validation letter after they first contact
- Fail to provide you with a debt verification letter if you request it
Collection Stops Until the Debt Is Verified
The debt collector cannot make any further collection efforts until they respond to you and confirm that the debt is yours. However, they can continue to collect the debt if you have not replied to them within the 30-day time window.
The debt collector will continue to try to contact you and make efforts to get you to pay until they receive the request for the verification letter. That is the point when their collection efforts must stop temporarily. The debt collector can resume their attempts to get you to pay once they send you the letter.
You can still request a debt verification letter at any time, but collection efforts only stop in the interim if you ask for it within the 30-day window. If the debt collector never gets back to you with verification of the debt, they cannot do anything to collect in the future.
The debt collector also cannot report the debt to the credit bureau until they have verified it. If a debt collector has informed the credit bureau of an unverified debt, and the credit bureau has reported it, then both may be liable in a lawsuit.
You Can Dispute a Debt that You Believe Is Invalid
You have the legal right to dispute any debt if you do not think it is right. You can file a dispute if the debt collector has reported your debt to the credit bureaus. The credit reporting agency must perform its own reasonable due diligence to investigate whether the debt is accurate. The credit reporting agency can be liable if it includes information on your report and they do not perform an adequate investigation if you dispute the debt.
Federal Law Restricts What a Debt Collector Can Do
Even if the debt collector can keep up their efforts, there are still other limits on what they can do. Once you have received the debt verification letter, you may decide to restrict how and when the debt collector can contact you. For example, you can tell them they can no longer call you to discuss the debt. You can even inform the debt collector that they cannot contact you. You can limit when they can contact you as well.
Stopping communication with the debt collector does not mean they must discontinue collection efforts. The debt collector can file a lawsuit against you in court, and they can report the debt as delinquent to the bureaus. However, they cannot threaten you or engage in any kind of deception.
The FDCPA Prohibits Many Practices or Behaviors
Even if the debt is completely valid, the debt collector must still follow federal and state laws in their dealings with you. Given the potential for abuse and the effect of delinquent debts on your life, debt collection is a highly regulated industry. Not only must debt collectors provide you with validation and verification (if you ask for it), but they are also not allowed to do the following:
- Contact you between the hours of 9 PM – 8 AM to speak to you
- Call you repeatedly or harass you in an attempt to annoy you (new CFPB regulations state that if debt collectors try to contact you more than seven times in seven days, or within seven days after they have spoken to you, there is a presumption of harassment)
- Use profanity or otherwise threaten you
- Speak to a third party about your debt who does not owe the money (such as a family member or your supervisor)
- Attempt to mislead you or make any misrepresentations about what you owe
- Continue to contact you after you have told them to stop
- Manipulate communications to make them look as if they are from a lawyer or a court
- Add fees to collect your debt that does not come from the original creditor
Federal and state law gives you a remedy when the debt collector has broken the law. Just because you owe money does not mean you have to feel powerless. While it may not address your debt situation, you can fight against illegal debt collection tactics. The debt collector does not have power and control over you, which allows them to break federal law.
You Can Receive Compensation When a Debt Collector Breaks the Law
In addition to filing a complaint with government agencies, the FDCPA gives you a vital tool to help you fight back. Not only can you get justice and help end illegal tactics, but a lawsuit can also get you financial compensation. Once you show that the debt collector has failed to follow the law, they become liable to pay you damages for their illegal conduct. Here are the damages that you can get under the FDCPA:
- Statutory damages of up to $1,000 for each debt collector that has violated the law
- Actual costs and damages that you have suffered from the illegal conduct
- Emotional distress from the mental harm that an abusive debt collector can cause you
- Lost income if your productivity at work has suffered from having to deal with illegal debt-collection practices
You can file an individual lawsuit against the debt collector under the FDCPA. If the debt collector has broken the law in the same way in dealing with many other people, you can join a class action lawsuit. Here, you must demonstrate that you suffered the same harm as a large class of other plaintiffs.
You Might Sue the Debt Collector Under State Law
The FDCPA is the usual tool that you will use to take legal action and hold unlawful debt collectors accountable for violating your rights. However, there are also state laws that regulate debt collection. Even though the FDCPA preempts state laws, you can sue under state law when it is broader and the violation is something that the FDCPA does not cover.
For example, some states regulate the behavior of all creditors, as opposed to just debt collectors. State law may even provide for broader damages than federal law (including punitive damages if the debt collector’s behavior was egregious).
Your lawyer can assess the situation and determine whether filing a federal or state lawsuit is in your best interests. These are complex regulations and preemption issues, but an FDCPA attorney has a deep understanding of these laws. They can ensure your case is on the right path so you can seek the relief you need.
Speak to an Attorney if You Have Any Questions About Your Legal Rights
You always need to be vigilant when you are dealing with debt collectors. They have a variety of tactics that they can use to deceive or intimidate you. Always contact an attorney if you are unsure or want to know your legal rights. An FDCPA attorney knows the ins and outs of the law, and they can advise you whether you have a potential lawsuit against the debt collector. Then, they can file the lawsuit in court and negotiate a possible settlement on your behalf. You can get legal representation from an FDCPA attorney without having to pay any money out of your pocket or any hourly bills while your case is pending.
Consult with a consumer protection attorney in San-Diego today about how to best uphold your consumer rights.