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Debt Law Overview

Three separate pieces of federal legislation protect people against invasive debt collectors: the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. The three laws work together to guide how and when debt collectors can contact debtors, and what actions they can legally take against people who owe money.

The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act sets out how the debt collector must conduct him or herself when contacting people; they can’t use abusive or profane language, and they can’t contact people’s families or employers (other than just to get contact information). Repeated and threatening calls are illegal, as are calls placed outside the hours 9:00 PM to 8:00 AM.  Debt collectors can’t threaten people with physical harm, or with imprisonment (though unscrupulous businesses do it all the time).

The Fair Credit Reporting Act lays out how people can seek legal redress for errors on their credit score. If your credit score has been wrongfully harmed, you can use the FCRA for injunctive relief—you can raise your credit score back to where it would be, if not for the negligent reporting. This statue is important to people wrongly accused of owing money; the fraudulent debt gets reported and drags down their credit scores, which otherwise takes time and money to correct.

Under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, it’s illegal for companies or individuals to use automatic telephone dialing systems or artificial prerecorded voices to contact cell phones, unless they have the recipient’s consent.  Every illegal call made is a TCPA violation, and can ring up $500 to $1,500 fines per call.

Other federal and state statutes exist to protect people from harassing, threatening or intrusive actions; but it’s up to the people to report violations of their rights, and keep track of who has done what to them. We live in a time of abundant scam artists; some debt collectors attempt to collect on debts which have passed the statute of limitations, others try to collect from a person with the same name as the debtor but who does not actually owe the debt (“debt-tagging” is the industry term).

If a collection agency has harassed you, you may be entitled to money damages up to $1,000.00, based on the FDCPA, which has been around for almost 35 years. The FDCPA is a federal law that applies to every state.  In other words, everyone is protected by the FDCPA. The FDCPA is essentially a laundry list of what debt collectors can and cannot do while collecting a debt, as well as things debt collectors must do while collecting a debt.  Plus, the FDCPA has a fee-shift provision. This means, the collection agency pays your attorney’s fees and costs.

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