September 18, 2013
LITTLE ROCK – Consumers who have fallen behind on paying their bills – and even some who haven’t – are most likely familiar with incessant calls from some debt collection agencies.
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel’s Consumer Protection Division often hears complaints from consumers about unfair, harassing or illegal debt-collection tactics. Debt collection ranks among the top categories of consumer complaints to the Attorney General’s Office. And, at a recent meeting in Little Rock, Arkansas consumer advocates and community leaders expressed concern about some debt-collection practices to McDaniel and Richard Cordray, director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is intended to protect consumers from abuses. McDaniel today issued this consumer alert to inform Arkansans about their rights under the act.
“Consumers who are struggling to pay a debt should not also have to deal with harassment from a debt collector,” McDaniel said. “The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act provides protections to every American, and consumers who are facing difficult financial times should know their rights under the Act.”
The Act covers personal, family and household debt, such as mortgages, credit card bills, car payments and past-due medical expenses. Business-to-business debt is not covered under the act.
Consumers who are contacted by debt collectors should know that those collectors are governed by various rules, including:
• Debt collectors are limited to contacting a person only between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. They may not contact someone at his or her job if the debt collectors are aware that an employer prohibits personal calls.
• A debt collector is prohibited from harassing, intimidating, threatening or embarrassing a debtor in any way while attempting to collect a debt.
• A collector may not threaten to take legal action if that action is not an actual option for the collector, nor can the collector threaten to take any action that he or she does not intend to take.
• Debt collectors are prohibited from making false or misleading statements, such as falsely associating themselves with government offices or credit bureaus. They are not allowed to use false threats of imprisonment or criminal charges.
• Debt collectors are allowed only to discuss a debt with the debtor, the debtor’s attorney, a credit bureau, the creditor or the creditor’s attorney. While debt collectors may contact others to determine where the debtor lives or works, they may not disclose that someone owes a debt.
For consumers who want a debt collector to stop contacting them, consumers may make the request to the collector via certified mail. At that point, the collector may only contact a consumer to confirm receipt of the request or to inform the consumer that further action, such as a lawsuit, will be taken.
In addition, debt collectors must send a “validation notice” to consumers within five days of a collection call. Consumers are entitled to be provided with validation of a debt before collectors may take additional action to collect a debt.
Consumers who believe a debt collector is in violation of the law should document any communications with the collector and file a report with the Attorney General’s Office, the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov) or the Arkansas State Board of Collection Agencies (www.asbca.org).
Consumers may sue a collector in state or federal court up to one year after the date the law was violated. But consumers should remember that even if a collector is found to have violated the law, the consumer remains responsible for the debt if the debt is legitimate.
For more information on this or other consumer issues, contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at (800) 482-8982 or visit www.GotYourBackArkansas.org.