Consumer attorney Jason A. Shear gets a great satisfaction from helping people who are being harassed by debt collectors and/or collection agencies. Many people who are being harassed by debt collectors don’t even realize they have rights and that they don’t have to suffer from abusive phone calls and collection tactics, as such deceptive methods are often against the law. Jason has obtained money damages for his clients when collection agencies, collection law firms and debt buyers have violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
If you’ve fallen behind on your bills, chances are that you are being pursued by a debt collector. The Federal Trade Commission and Better Business Bureau report that they receive more complaints about debt collectors than complaints from any other industry. You should know that there are numerous federal and state laws designed to protect consumers.One such law is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which prohibits collection agencies from using abusive, deceptive, and unfair practices to collect a debt from you. While it cannot eliminate your debt, the FDCPA prohibits a collector from harassing you.
You have rights under the FDCPA if you are:
- Being contacted by someone regarding an outstanding debt;
- Being contacted by a third party collection agency (someone other than the original creditor to whom you owed money);
- The debt was for a personal, family, or household purpose (such as a personal credit card, auto loan, medical bill, residential mortgage). In other words, the debt must be a consumer debt, not a business debt.
The information below provides answers to some questions about your rights under the FDCPA:
What types of debts are covered?
The FDCPA covers personal, family, and household debts, including money you owe on a personal credit card account, auto loan, medical bill, and your mortgage. The FDCPA doesn’t cover debts you incurred to run a business.
Can a debt collector contact me any time or any place?
No. A debt collector may not contact you at inconvenient times and/or places, such as before 8:00 a.m. in the morning or after 9:00 p.m. at night, unless you agree to it. And collectors may not contact you at work if they’re told (orally or in writing) that you’re not allowed to receive calls there.
How can I stop a debt collector from contacting me?
If a collector contacts you about a debt, you may want to talk to him/her at least once to see if you can resolve the matter – even if you don’t think you owe the debt, can’t repay it immediately, or think that the collector is contacting you by mistake. If you decide after contacting the debt collector that you don’t want the collector to contact you again, tell the collector – in writing – to stop contacting you. Here’s how to do that:
Make a copy of your letter. Send the original letter by certified mail, and pay for a “return receipt” so you’ll be able to document what the collector received. Once the collector receives your letter, s/he may not contact you again, with two exceptions: a collector can contact you to tell you there will be no further contact or to let you know that the creditor intends to take a specific action, such filing a lawsuit. Sending such a letter to a debt collector to whom you might owe money does not get rid of the debt, but it should stop the contact. The creditor or the debt collector can still sue you to collect the debt.
Can a debt collector contact anyone else about my debt?
If an attorney is representing you about the debt, the debt collector must contact the attorney, rather than you. If you don’t have an attorney, a collector may contact other people – but only to find out your address, your home phone number, and where you work. Collectors usually are prohibited from contacting third parties more than once. Other than to obtain location information about you, a debt collector generally is not permitted to discuss your consumer debt with anyone other than you, your spouse, or your attorney.
What does the debt collector have to tell me about the debt?
Every collector must send you a written “validation notice” telling you how much money you owe within five days after they first contact you. This notice also must include the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money, and how to proceed if you don’t think you owe the money.
Can a debt collector keep contacting me if I don’t think I owe any money?
If you send the debt collector a letter stating that you don’t owe any or all of the money, or asking for verification of the debt, that collector must stop contacting you. You have to send that letter within thirty (30) days after you receive the validation notice. But a collector can begin contacting you again if s/he sends you written verification of the debt, like a copy of a bill for the amount you owe.
What practices are off limits for debt collectors?
Generally harassment. Debt collectors may not harass, oppress, or abuse you or any third parties they contact. For example, they may not:
- Use threats of violence or harm;
- Publish a list of names of people who refuse to pay their debts (but they can give this information to the credit reporting companies);
- Use obscene or profane language; or
- Repeatedly use the phone to annoy someone.
Debt collectors may not use false statements. Debt collectors may not lie when they are trying to collect a debt. For example, they may not:
- Falsely claim that they are attorneys or government representatives;
- Falsely claim that you have committed a crime;
- Debt collectors also are prohibited from saying that:
- You will be arrested if you don’t pay your debt;
- They’ll seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages unless they are permitted by law to take the action and intend to do so; or
- Legal action will be taken against you, if doing so would be illegal or if they don’t intend to take the action.
Debt collectors may not:
- Give false credit information about you to anyone, including a credit reporting company;
- Send you anything that looks like an official document from a court or government agency if it isn’t; or
- Use a false company name.
Debt collectors may not engage in unfair practices when they try to collect a debt. For example, they may not:
- Try to collect any interest, fee, or other charge on top of the amount you owe unless the contract that created your debt – or your state law – allows the charge;
- Deposit a post-dated check early;
- Take or threaten to take your property unless it can be done legally; or
- Contact you by postcard.
Can I control which debts my payments apply to?
Yes. If a debt collector is trying to collect more than one debt from you, the collector must apply any payment you make to the debt you select. Equally important, a debt collector may not apply a payment to a debt you don’t think you owe.
Can a debt collector garnish my bank account or my wages?
If you don’t pay a debt, a creditor or the debt collector generally can sue you to collect. If they win, the court will enter a judgment against you. The judgment states the amount of money you owe, and allows the creditor or collector to get a garnishment order against you, directing a third party, like your bank, to turn over funds from your account to pay the debt.Wage garnishment happens when your employer withholds part of your compensation to pay your debts. Your wages usually can be garnished only as the result of a court order. Don’t ignore a lawsuit summons. If you do, you lose the opportunity to fight a wage garnishment.
Can federal benefits be garnished?
Many federal benefits are exempt from garnishment, including:
- Social Security Benefits
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits
- Veterans’ Benefits
- Civil Service and Federal Retirement and Disability Benefits
- Service Members’ Pay
- Military Annuities and Survivors’ Benefits
- Student Assistance
- Railroad Retirement Benefits
- Merchant Seamen Wages
- Longshoremen’s and Harbor Workers’ Death and Disability Benefits
- Foreign Service Retirement and Disability Benefits
- Compensation for Injury, Death, or Detention of Employees of U.S. Contractors outside the U.S.
- Federal Emergency Management Agency Federal Disaster Assistance
But federal benefits may be garnished under certain circumstances, including to pay delinquent taxes, alimony, child support, or student loans.
What is the Exempt Income Protection Act?
A law called the Exempt Income Protection Act (EIPA) went into effect on January 1, 2009 in New York State. New York’s EIPA protects bank accounts that contain protected funds such as government benefits, pensions, and some earned income. EIPA prevents creditors and debt collectors from freezing these accounts to pay private debts, like credit cards. Under EIPA, your bank account cannot be frozen if the balance is less than:
- $2,625.00 – if your account contains directly deposited exempt benefits, including Social Security, SSI, Veterans benefits, disability, pensions, child support, spousal maintenance, workers compensation, unemployment insurance, Public Assistance, Railroad Retirement benefits, and Black Lung benefits; or
- $1,740.00 – all other bank accounts.
What Should I Do If I’ve Been Harassed By a Debt Collector?
Call Consumer Attorney Jason A. Shear today at (716) 566-8988. The NY Creditor Harassment Attorneys at The Law Offices of Jason A. Shear have been fighting for the rights of consumers for years. We have experienced consumer law attorneys that can put an end to the harassment, sue the debt collector, and make the debt collector pay you damages. Initial consultations are always free, and we don’t collect a legal fee in your debt collection case until we win your case. We are located in the Buffalo, New York area but successfully serve clients all over New York State. Feel free to call or e-mail Buffalo FDCPA Attorney Jason A. Shear to discuss your case.