Collection agencies may contact individuals who are believed to be behind in their bills (debtors) via phone, fax, telegram, mail or in person. They can call anytime except between the hours of 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. and no more than three times a week unless the debtor agrees to it. Only one of those calls can be at work. Collection agencies cannot call debtors at work if informed in writing not to do so.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a government agency that protects U.S. consumers, enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The FDCPA says that collection agencies may not use unfair or abusive practices to collect and may not contact debtors at inconvenient times. Although debtors have a responsibility to resolve their debt, whether mistaken or not, they also have rights under the FDCPA.
Types of Debt Covered by the FDCPA
The FDCPA covers personal, family and household debts, which includes any overdue bills, loans, mortgages or credit card debts, but doesn't cover business debts. This means that if a debtor incurs debt related to business they will not receive protection under the FDCPA and can be contacted at any time, even between the hours of 9 p.m. and 8 a.m.
If the debtor works with an attorney to resolve their debt, the collection agency must contact the attorney and not the debtor. Collection agencies cannot use violent or profane language when they contact people or call repeatedly to annoy them. A collection agency cannot call or write to a person in debt more than three times a week.
Whether or not the accusation of debt is valid and whether or not the debt can be paid off immediately, talking to a collection agency at least once to resolve the matter may prevent further calls. Telling the collection agency in a letter to stop contacting you will stop further calls. Letters do not eliminate debt or prevent collection agencies from suing debtors, but they stop contact.
Filing a Complaint
To file a complaint against collection agencies that have violated the law and called at an inconvenient time, debtors must go to the Attorney General's Office online at www.atg.wa.gov or call 1-800-551-4636 to request a complaint form by mail. U.S. consumers have one year from when the violation occurred to sue collection agencies. Winners receive money to cover the damages that occurred during the violation and up to an additional $1,000.
Patty Hastings has been a serious writer since 2006 and earned her Bachelor of Arts in English from Western Washington University June 2010. She's been featured in "Jeopardy," "Labyrinth," "The Autism Perspective," and "What's Up!" magazine.