By Jeff Stalnaker, CEO of PrivacyStar
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), an independent agency to the US government with a mission to protect consumers, has received more complaints so far this year about debt collector harassment than anything else. With the fact that unemployment continues to be at record levels, it is no surprise that many Americans are struggling to manage their debt with many being contacted excessively by creditors and debt collectors regarding unpaid bills and delinquent accounts. Debt collectors often turn to using threatening tactics in order to collect debt, and this type of harassment is not only an annoyance, but it makes it difficult for consumers to feel confident about finding a solution to manage their debt and get back on track with their finances as well as their daily lives.
There are laws that protect consumers against debt collector harassment. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act was put into place in 1978 to eliminate abusive practices in the collection of consumer debt, to promote fair debt collection and to provide consumers with an avenue for disputing and obtaining validation of debt information in order to ensure the information's accuracy.
Consumers, especially those who are climbing out of debt and back into the job market, need to educate themselves about what types of actions are prohibited by debt collectors and understand that they can file a complaint and prosecute if they feel they have been wronged.
The following is a list of prohibited debt collector conduct:
- Calling outside of the designated hours, which are 8am-9pm local time
- Continuing communication with a consumer after receiving written notification that they wish to terminate further communications or refuse to pay the alleged debt
- Calling a phone and/or engaging with a person in a conversation repeatedly or continuously with the intent to annoy, abuse or harass
- Communicating at a consumers place of employment after being advised that it is unacceptable or prohibited by the employer
- Contacting a consumer that has attorney representation – debt collectors must be notified of council and all communications must go through said council
- Pursuing collection efforts within 30 days after receipt of a consumers written request for verification of debt
- Impersonating an attorney or law enforcement officer
- Publishing the consumer's name or address on "bad debt" list
- Seeking unjustified amounts
- Making threats of arrest or legal action
- Using abusive or profane language used in the course of communication
- Discussing the nature of debt with third parties other than a consumer's attorney or spouse
- Making contact by embarrassing media such as communicating via post card or using any other language or symbol other than the debt collectors address on any envelope when communicating by mail or telegram
- Reporting false information on a consumer's credit report or threatening to do so in the process of collection
The following is a list of what is required by law of debt collectors:
- In every communication, the debt collector must identify themselves as a debt collector and all information collected during communications will be used for the collection of debt
- The name and address of the original creditor must be provided for any form of communication
- Debt collectors must notify the consumer of their right to dispute debt in part or in full with the debt collector
- Debt collectors must either mail the consumer the requested verification information or cease collection efforts within 30 days of receiving official request for verification
- Debt collectors may file a lawsuit in a place only where the consumer lives or signed the contract
It is essential for consumers to understand what is outlined in the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act so they understand their rights, know when they have been violated and how to take action against harassment. If a consumer experiences communications with a debt collector that breaks one of the laws listed above, they can immediately take action by filling out a form that will report the violation to the FTC https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/ . If a consumer continues to be harassed after filing a complaint, they can to talk to a lawyer and explore further options such as a lawsuit.
There are tools available to streamline the complaint filing process. PrivacyStar, a smartphone app for Android and BlackBerry, offers one of kind features for people who are being harassed by debt collectors. As the only smartphone app that works directly with the FTC, PrivacyStar provides its users with a feature that not only allows them to block the numbers of debt collectors, but also provides users with a way to report fraudulent calls directly to the FTC with a touch a of button that is located inside the app. At the request of the FTC, PrivacyStar has modified and continues to modify its app to ensure its users are providing officials with efficient data as to when a debt collector has called and how often. This type of documentation not only provides the FTC with efficient data to prosecute and fine debt collection companies that are breaking the law, but it also gives individuals a record that can be used by a legal team to prosecute.
Individuals have the right to sue a collector in a state or federal court within one year from the date that they experience a violation of one of the laws stated above. If a consumer wins the suit, the judge can require that the collector pay for any proven damages suffered because of the illegal collection practices, including lost wages and medical bills. In addition, the judge can require the debt collector to pay a consumer up to $1,000 even if an individual cannot prove that they suffered actual damages.
It is important for consumers to know their rights, fight back against harassment and report it to the FTC so that companies do not continue to hassle people who are recovering from the recession and bettering their lives by climbing out of unemployment and away from debt.
About this Author: Jeff Stalnaker, CEO of First Orion, the makers of PrivacyStar, a mobile app that can block any number and captures all call information, making it easy for users to file Do Not Call complaints.
Mr. Stalnaker was formerly the Division President of the financial services division at Acxiom Corporation (NASDAQ:ACXM), a leading provider of integrated marketing services to the global 1000. In 2001, Mr. Stalnaker was appointed Acxiom's Chief Financial Officer and prior to that appointment held a variety of financial/accounting positions throughout the company leading acquisitions valued in excess of $800 million.
Prior to joining Acxiom, Mr. Stalnaker was a senior analyst with the Arkansas Public Service Commission responsible for recommendations and testifying before the Commission on a variety of Federal and State public utility issues, including the telecommunications industry. For more information on First Orion and PrivacyStar visit www.privacystar.com.
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