What debts are covered? Personal, family, and household debts are covered under the Act. This includes
money owed for the purchase of an automobile, for medical care or
for charge accounts.
Who is a debt collector? A debt collector is any person, other than the creditor, who
regularly collects debts owed to others. Under a 1986 amendment
to the Fait Debt Collection Practices Act, this includes attorneys
who collect debts on a regular basis.
How may a debt collector contact
you? A collector may contact you in person, by mail, telephone, telegram
or fax. However, a debt collector may not contact you at unreasonable
times or places, such as before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you
agree. A debt collector also may not contact you at work if the
collector knows that your employer disapproves.
Can you stop a debt collector from contacting
you? You can stop a debt collector from contacting you by writing
a letter to the collection agency telling them to stop. Once the
agency receives the letter, they may not contact you again except
to say there will be no further contact. The agency may notify you
if the debt collector or the creditor intends to take some specific
May a debt collector contact anyone else about your debt? If you have an attorney, the debt collector may not contact anyone
other than your attorney. If you do not have an attorney, a collector
may contact other people, but only to find out where you live and
work. Collectors usually are prohibited from contacting such permissible
third parties more than once. In most cases, the collector may not
tell anyone other than you and your attorney that you owe money.
What must the debt collector tell
you about the debt? Within five days after you are first contacted, the collector
must send you a written notice telling you the amount of money you
owe; the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money; and what
action to take if you believe you do not owe the money.
May a debt collector continue to contact you if you do not believe you owe the money? A collector may not contact you if, within 30 days after you
are first contacted, you send the collection agency a letter stating
you do not owe money. However, a collector can renew collection
activities if you are sent proof of the debt, such as a copy of
a bill for the amount owed.
What types of debt collection practices are prohibited?
Harassment. Debt collectors may not harass, oppress or abuse
anyone. For example, debt collectors may not:
Use threats of violence or harm against the person, property or reputation;
Publish a list of consumers who refuse to pay their debts (except to a credit bureau);
Use obscene or profane language;
Repeatedly use the telephone to annoy someone;
Telephone someone without identifying themselves;
Advertise your debt.
Debt collectors may not use any false statements when collecting
a debt. For example, debt collectors may not:
Falsely imply that they are attorneys or government representatives;
Falsely imply that you have committed a crime;
Falsely represent that they operate or work for a credit bureau;
Misrepresent the amount of your debt;
Misrepresent the involvement of an attorney in collecting a debt;
Indicate that papers being sent to you are legal forms when they are not;
Indicate that papers being sent to you are not legal forms when they are.
Debt collectors also may not state that:
You will be arrested if you do not pay your debt;
They will seize, garnish, attach or sell your property or wages unless
the collection agency or creditor intends to do so, and it is legal to do so;
Actions, such as a lawsuit, will be taken against you, which legally may
not be taken, or which they do not intend to take. Debt collectors may not:
Give false credit information about you to anyone;
Send you anything that looks like an official document from a court
or government agency which it is not;
Use a false name.
Debt collectors may not engage in unfair practices when they try
to collect a debt. For example, debt collectors may not:
Collect any amount greater than your debt, unless allowed by law;
Deposit a post-dated check prematurely;
Make you accept collect calls or pay for telegrams;
Take or threaten to take your property unless this can be done legally;
Contact you by postcard.
What control do you have over payment of debts? If you owe more than one debt, any payment you make must be applied
to the debt you indicate. A debt collector may not apply a payment
to any debt you believe you do not owe.
What can you do if you believe a
debt collector violated the law? You have the right to sue a collector in a state or federal
court within one year from the date you believe the law was violated.
If you win, you may recover money for the damages you suffered.
Court costs and attorneys fees also can be recovered. A group of
people also may sue a debt collector and recover money for damages
up to $500,000, or one percent of the collector's net worth, whichever
Where can you report a debt collector
for an alleged violation? Report any problems you have with a debt collector to your state
Attorney General's office and the Federal Trade Commission. Many
states have their own debt collection laws and your Attorney General's
office can help you determine your rights.
If you have questions about the Fair
Debt Collection Practices Act, or your rights under the Act, write:
Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, Washington D.C.
20580. Although the FTC generally cannot intervene in individual disputes,
the information you provide may indicate a pattern of possible law
violations requiring action by the Commission.
To obtain a free copy of Best Sellers
- a list of all the FTC's consumer and business publications Contact: Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission,
Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222. TDD: 202-326-2502. You may
also access FTC publications at www.ftc.gov on the Internet.