Fighting Debt Collector Embarrassment
Even though falling behind in your bills is nothing to be ashamed of – after all, everyone feels the pinch at one point or another – a debt collection agency is masterful when it comes to embarrassing consumers who haven’t been able to keep up. Even though the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is meant to ensure consumers’ dignity and respect, to a debt collection agency, embarrassment is a means to an end. They think that they can make you so uncomfortable that you’ll pay to avoid further indignities.
Embarrassing Phone Calls
A debt collection agency can violate the protections afforded by the FDCPA and embarrass people in a number of ways, most notably through phone calls to people you know. The law says that debt collectors can call your family members, friends, coworkers, and neighbors – but only in an attempt to locate you. Once a debt collection agency knows how to contact you, they can’t continue to call the folks in your life.
The FDCPA outlines what a debt collection agency can and cannot do when contacting your acquaintances (called “third parties). For example, a debt collector must tell the person his true name, but he cannot say that he is attempting to collect a debt. He must say that he’s verifying or trying to get information in order to locate you, but he may do that in a way that tricks the person you know. For example, he might insinuate that he’s an old friend who is trying to reconnect with you, but he can’t outright lie and say that he knows you. Finally, he can’t contact your acquaintance more than once unless he or she has given the debt collector permission to do so.
The other issue that comes up regularly is the habit of a debt collection agency to use autodialers or robocalls. If someone answers the phone, a recorded voice will ask for you by name; when you come on the line, you’ll be connected to the debt collector. Alternately, robocalls may leave messages on your voice mail. Clearly, anyone in the household could pick up the message, which has the potential to be embarrassing. Debt collection agencies skirt this issue by including a statement saying that, if the person listening isn’t the person named, they should hang up. That may still violate the FDCPA.
Calling people you know is one form of embarrassment; sending letters and postcards is another tactic that a debt collection agency uses to shame you into paying. The FDCPA expressly forbids a debt collector from using postcards or envelopes that divulge that you owe a debt or that they are trying to collect a debt. They can’t, for example, send you a letter with the return address of “XYZ Collection Agency.” After all, if they were allowed to do that, everyone from your letter carrier to your relatives would know about it. Again, the FDCPA is meant to protect consumers’ dignity, so if you were to receive mail that is obviously from a debt collector, that would be embarrassing.
Other Embarrassing Tactics
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act also makes it illegal for a debt collection agency to engage in other embarrassing tactics. For example, a debt collector cannot publish your name in the paper, nor can he advertise that he wants to sell your debt to another in an attempt to embarrass you.
These strict regulations about debt collector behavior in speaking to third parties is to ensure that your situation doesn’t become public knowledge, that you do not suffer from embarrassment, and that your reputation isn’t compromised at your workplace, with a landlord, or with someone else.
How to Fight Back Against Harassment
If you’ve been embarrassed by debt collector tactics, it’s important to fight back. First, start a logbook the first time you learn that the debt collection agency contacted someone you know. This kind of documentation, along with the written notices, envelopes, and postcards you receive, can help you establish that the debt collector violated the FDCPA.
Second, write a cease and desist letter. Remember, a debt collection agency can’t contact anyone you know once you’ve told them to stop.
Third, contact a Fair Debt attorney. If the debt collection agency has violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, you are entitled to actual damages, attorney fees, and up to $1,000. The legal team at Lemberg Law will provide you with a free case evaluation, and will represent you if you’ve been the victim of embarrassing debt collection practices. To speak with a representative directly and immediately call 844-685-9200 for a free, no obligation case evaluation.
Finally, file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The CFPB, together with the Federal Trade Commission, is responsible for enforcing the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and uses consumer complaints to detect patterns of abuse. Complaints like yours are the driving factor in lawsuits filed by the FTC against unethical debt collectors.
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