Attorney Sergei Lemberg is a nationally recognized expert in consumer law who has earned a reputation as a tireless consumer advocate. Mr. Lemberg is an expert in lemon law (www.lemonjustice.com), fair debt collection practices (www.stopcollector.com), and other areas of consumer law (www.lemberglaw.com) As a service to our readers and our clients, we have invited him to post the following blog:
In today's economy, bill collectors are out for blood, doing everything they can to squeeze every last dime out of consumers. Like vultures, debt collectors know that you are vulnerable, and they circle around, waiting for an opening to strike. A bill collector will use a variety of tactics - some legal and some illegal - to break a person's spirit, to incite panic, and to make him or her take desperate measures to make the harassment stop. Debt collection agencies count on the fact that most consumers don't know the difference between legal and illegal tactics, and don't know hot to block bill collectors.
Knowledge is power, which is why you should know where the law draws the line when it comes to bill collectors. The Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act outlines in detail what constitutes legal and illegal behavior. Here's a brief rundown:
Phone Calls: Debt collectors are allowed to call you, unless you've sent them a cease and desist letter (which will effectively block bill collectors, although it won't erase your debt). However, they can't call you early in the morning, late at night, or at work (unless you've given them permission to do so). They also can't call so often that you feel harassed by their calls.
Letters and Postcards: Debt collection agencies can send you letters through the mail, but they're prohibited from sending postcards. When they send letters, the outside of the envelope can't say that it's from a debt collection agency, or indicate in any way that they're trying to collect a debt. The prohibition against postcards and blatant envelopes is because the law is meant to protect you from public embarrassment.
Threats: Debt collectors are notorious for making threats. Sometimes, they will tell you that they will take away your car or your home. Unless you've used your vehicle or house for collateral, this is an empty and illegal threat. Other times, they'll threaten you with arrest or jail time. Again, this is illegal, and you'll never get arrested for being behind on your bills. In extreme cases, a debt collector will threaten a consumer with violence, which is totally against the law.
There are many other behaviors and practices that are illegal under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Familiarize yourself with the FDCPA and let the debt collector know in very certain terms that you are aware of your rights and that you will stand up for yourself. Chances are the bill collector will back down.
We strongly encourage you to contact attorney Sergei Lemberg if you have any questions or need any attorney for consumer law matters.