If you have ever read the fine print on a billing statement, you may have seen references to a law called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. This is a powerful federal consumer protection law intended to stop unfair or harassing practices by debt collection agencies -- the companies that collect debt on behalf of a creditor or buy debt outright. Here in California, we are lucky enough to be protected by a similar state law that covers the original creditor as well. All of these agencies are forbidden from engaging in a long list of "abusive and deceptive" behaviors, including:
- Repeated or continuous phone calls.
- Calling at any time that is not between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. in the consumer's time zone.
- Failing to stop contact attempts after the consumer makes a written request that they stop.
- Calling a consumer at work after being told this is forbidden by the employer.
- Using any kind of lie or misrepresentation to collect the debt.
- Seeking more money than is owed or allowed by law.
- Calling a consumer they know is represented by an attorney.
They must also provide certain information about the consumer's rights, including providing written verification of the debt and notifying consumers of their right to dispute the debt.
Consumers can report violations of the FDCPA to the Federal Trade Commission and state agencies, but these agencies can't or won't always take action. Luckily, the law also allows consumers to pursue civil penalties against debt collectors that violate their rights. Anyone may sue a debt collector for FDCPA violations and collect up to $1,000 per violation, plus court costs and attorney fees.
Importantly, the $1,000 is "statutory damages," meaning you don't need to prove you had a financial injury totaling $1,000 -- you are entitled to the payment if you can prove the law was broken. (California law allows statutory damages of $100 to $1,000 as well, but not in class-action lawsuits.) If you have actual damages, such as the loss of an income after getting fired over harassing calls, you may sue to recover those as well.
The statutory damages provision of the FDCPA is a powerful consumer rights tool because it allows consumers to hold debt collectors responsible for breaking the law in ways that don't cost money, such as use of profanity or threats. At Howard Law LLP, our Orange County Fair Debt Collection Practices Act lawyers have helped people throughout Southern California whose rights have been violated by a collection agency. If necessary, our Santa Ana debt settlement and negotiation attorneys also help clients get on top of uncontrollable debt, to avoid further harassment by creditors. If you know you need this kind of help and you're ready to learn more, please contact us online or call 1-800-872-5925 today.