The Federal Debt Collection Practices Act The Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) was enacted in 1977, with the support of the American Collectors Association, Inc., to protect consumers from unfair and abusive collection practices. The law regulates professional, third-party collection businesses, agents and attorneys, but not "in-house" collectors or employees of creditors who collect their own debts. This is not intended to be a complete or official summary of the FDCPA. The FDCPA is enforced on the federal level by the Federal Trade Commission. There may be regulations in the state where you reside that provide further consumer protection. State laws vary. For more information on the FDCPA, write to: American Collectors Association, Inc. P.O. Box 39106 Minneapolis, MN 55439-0106 Notification Within five working days after you are first contacted, the collection agency must send you a written notification of the amount of the debt and the name of the creditor who referred the debt to the agency. This notice should also inform you of your right to dispute the debt within 30 days of its receipt. Communication A debt collector may: Contact you only between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. your time, unless you give permission to call at other times. Call you at work, unless you inform the collector that your employer prohibits it. Contact you by mail so long as there is no reference to the debt on the envelope. Contact people who aren't directly involved in your debt to get information on where you live and work so, long as it is not a communication about the debt. The collector must state his name, but only give the name of his employer if the person specifically asks him to. He may only contact each person once, unless he believes that the person gave incorrect or incomplete information at the time, but now has complete or updated information. Contact you directly unless you have informed him that you are represented by an attorney regarding this debt. (You should tell the agency how to reach your attorney.) Collection Practices A debt collector may: Only use business-like language. This prohibits threats of violence or profane, obscene or abusive language. Only report the status of your account to a qualified credit reporting agency. Deposit a check on or after the date on the check. If a check is post-dated by more than 5 days, the collector must notify you 3 to 10 days before depositing it. Add charges that are provided for by law or by your original agreement with the creditor. A debt collector may not: Make repetitive or excessively frequent phone calls to annoy or harass you. Misrepresent his identity. Misrepresent the legal status of your debt, falsely accuse you of criminal activity, or indicate that any document is legal process if it is not. Threaten to take any action that is illegal or that the collector does not actually intend to take. Within 30 days of being contacted by a debt collector, you may send a written dispute of the debt or any part of it. The collector must then obtain proof of the debt and stop all collection efforts until he sends this proof to you. You may send a written request that the collector stop all contact with you. The collector may then contact you only once more, to advise you as to what legal or other action the collector or creditor intends to take, or to inform you that you will no lon ger be contacted. Be aware, however, of the possible consequences of invoking this provision. Once you have stopped communication with a collection agency, the agency may initiate legal action or return your account to the original creditor for legal action, depending upon the type, circumstances and amount of the debt, the policies of the creditor and the laws in your state. If a court enters a judgment against you, the judgment creditor may pursue remedies such as repossession, liens or wage garnishment. The cease communication provision can protect you from an abusive collector. It won't, however, resolve the problem of the unpaid debt. Collectors' Rights Under the FDCPA, debt collectors may: Contact you by telephone, letter or in person in an attempt to collect legitimate debts. Call you at work, unless the collector knows such contacts are inconvenient or you inform the collector that your employer prohibits it. Contact your family members or neighbors to find out where you live or work, as long as they do not discuss the debt. Ask for postdated checks, if the rules for cashing them are followed. Accept only payment in full. Most collectors will, however, accept reasonable plans for payment. Complaints If you believe that a collector is breaking the law, you may want to talk with the collector's manager or the agency's owner, who may not be aware of the collector's actions. You may also want to contact the American Collectors Association, P.O. Box 39106, Minneapolis, MN 55439-0106, which will work to resolve the issue.