What you need to know about debt collectors
By Barbara Craig, Attorney-at-Law
Attempting to collect a debt is not illegal but the tactics used to collect that debt can make it so. With the rise in complaints regarding debt collection tactics used by collection agencies, it’s a good idea to review what actions these creditors can and cannot take in an attempt to collect a debt.
The Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
California consumers are protected under California Civil Code §1788, known as the Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which specifies that:
A debt collection agent may only call you between the hours of 8am and 9pm
There is no limit on how often they can call you in a day, but repeated calls in a short period of time can constitute harassment.
A debt collection agent cannot use profane or obscene language when communicating with you
A debt collector cannot represent themselves to be anyone but the collector of a debt and they must give you their name or the name of the collection agency.
A debt collector cannot represent themselves to be an attorney unless they are actually a lawyer
A debt collection agency can use the letterhead of a lawyer to send communications regarding a debt, but only if the communication has been approved or authorized by the attorney listed.
A debt collector must document your debt in writing within five days of first contacting you
The notice sent to you must state the amount you owe, the name of the original creditor, and the process you can use to dispute the bill.
A debt collector can call your employer only for permissible reasons
They may verify your employment and location, garnish your wages if there is a judgment against you, or find out if you have health insurance to cover a medical debt. They cannot call you at work if you have informed them that your employer prohibits you from receiving such collection calls.
A debt collection agency cannot threaten you with an action they cannot legally take
The creditor cannot threaten to sue you if it does not have the legal authority to sue. They can’t threaten you with jail.
A collection agency cannot threaten to report your debt to the credit bureaus
Unless the agency is a customer of the credit bureau and is actually going to report the debt.
A debt collector cannot threaten to increase the amount owed for attorney fees, service fees, interest, or any other charges
Unless the original credit agreement specifically allows for such fees to be charged.
Debt collection agencies cannot collect on debts which are older than specified by the statute of limitations.
Generally, four years for written agreements and two years for verbal agreements.
A debt collector cannot try to collect on debts that were discharged in bankruptcy
In fact, as soon as you hire a bankruptcy attorney – even before your bankruptcy petition is filed – you can request debt collectors cease contacting you, and direct their phone calls to your attorney.
What should you do if harassed by debt collectors?
If you have been victimized by a deceptive debt collection agency you should contact your state’s Attorney General’s office. Here in California you can submit your complaint online via the Attorney General’s web site. You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at the FTC Complaint Assistant web site.