The bedrock of the debt collection industry is debt collection agents communicating with consumers. These communications come in three forms: (1) letters, (2) lawsuits, and (3) by telephone calls. Letters are almost always based on a form that has been vetted by lawyers and approved by compliance professionals. Lawsuits are usually handled by outside law-firms using forms that have also be vetted by compliance professionals. This leaves phone calls as the one means of communication that happens in real time and off the cuff by debt collection agents.
Phone calls are usually handled by debt collection agents with little legal education and often ineffective training. To make matters worse, debt collection agents are often incentivized with commissions and bonuses based upon how much they can get consumers to pay. For these reasons, not surprisingly, some of the more prolific occurrences of debt collection abuse occur over the phone.
Federal debt collection law known as the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA for short) regulates the conduct of third party debt collectors (those collecting consumer debts for someone other than themselves). The FDCPA has specific laws relating to how (and how not) debt collectors can use the telephone in their efforts to collect a debt.
How Often Can Debt Collectors Call?
Under the FDCPA, debt collection agencies are limited in the time and frequency with which they can call consumers to collect a debt.
Under the FDCPA, debt collectors cannot call before 8 am or after 9 pm. Debt collectors are also prohibited from calling consumers an “unreasonable number of times”:
- An unreasonable number of calls has been interpreted to mean “repeatedly or continuously with intent to annoy, abuse, or harass any person at the called number.”
- “Continuously” means making a series of telephone calls, one right after the other.
- “Repeatedly” means calling with excessive frequency under the circumstances.
How Can I Stop Debt Collectors From Calling?
According to the FDCPA, “If a consumer notifies a debt collector in writing that the consumer refuses to pay a debt or that the consumer wishes the debt collector to cease further communication with the consumer, the debt collector shall not communicate further with the consumer with respect to the debt, except –
(1) to advise the consumer that the debt collector’s further efforts are being terminated;
(2) to notify the consumer that the debt collector or creditor may invoke specified remedies which are ordinarily invoked by such debt collector or creditor; or
(3) where applicable, to notify the consumer that the debt collector or creditor intends to invoke a specified remedy.”
Calls to Work
The FDCPA, explicitly prohibits a debt collector from contacting a consumer at work if it knows or has reason to know that such calls are not allowed.
Even if a consumer is allowed to receive debt collection calls at work, continued calls may still violate the FDCPA. The FDCPA generally prohibits “any conduct the natural consequence of which is to harass, oppress, or abuse any person in connection with the collection of a debt.” So, if the natural consequence of calls to work is to harass, oppress or abuse, the calls are prohibited.
Calls to Third Parties
The FDCPA prohibits communications to any third parties (anyone other than you) except for the sole purpose of confirming your address, home phone number and place of employment. So, other than to obtain location information, debt collectors are generally prohibited from discussing a consumer’s debt with anyone other than the consumer, the consumer’s spouse or attorney.
If a debt collector is calling a third party to acquire location information, he must
(1) identify himself, state that he is confirming or correcting location information concerning the consumer, and, if expressly requested, identify his employer;
(2) not state the consumer owes any debt;
(3) not communicate with any such person more than once unless requested to do so by such person or unless the debt collector reasonably believes that the earlier response of such person is erroneous or incomplete and that such person now has correct or complete location information;
(4) not communicate by post card;
(5) not use any language or symbol on any envelope or in the contents of any communication effected by the mails or telegram that indicates that the debt collector is in the debt collection business or that the communication relates to the collection of a debt; and
(6) after the debt collector knows the consumer is represented by an attorney with regard to the subject debt and has knowledge of, or can readily ascertain, such attorney’s name and address, not communicate with any person other than that attorney, unless the attorney fails to respond within a reasonable period of time to the communication from the debt collector.”
The Law Offices of Robert J. Nahoum routinely represents consumers who have been the victim of debt collection phone abuse. In appropriate case, we sue debt collectors and debt collection law firms in Federal District Court for violations of the FDCPA. Because the FDCPA is fee shifting (meaning that the debt collector pays our legal fees), we don’t charge our FDCPA clients a penny out of pocket.
If you have questions, concerns, or legal needs regarding telephone debt collection practices, we urge you to contact The Law Offices of Robert J. Nahoum, P.C. today by calling 845-232-0202.