The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act was passed in 1977 to protect consumers from abusive debt collectors. Here’s a closer look at the rules a third-party debt collector must follow when collecting a debt.

Contacting a debtor.

A collector may contact you in person, by mail, telephone, telegram or fax. However, a debt collector may not contact you at inconvenient 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 of such contacts.

Contacting a third party about your debt.

If you have an attorney, the debt collector must contact the attorney, rather than you. If you do not have an attorney, a collector may contact other people but only to find out where you live, what your phone number is and where you work. Collectors usually are prohibited from contacting such third parties more than once. In most cases, the collector may not tell anyone other than you and your attorney that you owe money.

Giving written notice.

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.

When a consumer doesn’t owe the money.

A collector may not contact you if within 30 days after you receive the written notice 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.

No harassment

Debt collectors may not harass, oppress or abuse you or any third party they contact.

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.
  • Give false credit information about you to anyone, including a credit bureau.
  • Send you anything that looks like an official document from a court or government agency when it is not.

Debt collectors 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 when such action legally may not be taken or when they do not intend to take such action.

No unfair practices

A debt collector may not engage in unfair practices when they try to collect a debt from you.

Debt collectors may not:

  • Collect any amount greater than your debt, unless your state law permits such a charge.
  • Deposit a postdated check prematurely.
  • Use deception to make you accept collect calls or pay for telegrams.
  • Take or threaten to take your property unless this can be done legally.

Source: Fair Debt Collection, a brochure for consumers from the Federal Trade Commission.

— Updated: Aug. 22, 2006

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