Many families are preparing to celebrate Halloween this weekend in a year marred by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although many had hoped that the spread of the virus would be contained by now, it appears that was only witchful thinking. Instead, the virus has continued to spread resulting in business closures and hair-raising unemployment numbers. These circumstances have created an opportunity for debt collectors to emerge out of hiding and haunt American families. Consumers, however, have a number of tricks – and treats – at their disposal to fend off these bogeymen.
Debt collectors are governed by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The FDCPA is an important consumer rights statute that restricts what debt collectors can do to collect a debt. For example, the FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from, among other things, (i) making false or misleading representations, (ii) using threats or profane language, (iii) publishing lists of individuals who do not pay debts, or (iv) calling repeatedly with the intent to annoy. In addition, the FDCPA also restricts where a debt collector may contact you and what time of the day. While the FDCPA may not have jurisdiction over the monsters that come out at night, it does prohibit debt collectors from attempting to collect a debt past 9 P.M.
In addition to restricting debt collectors, the FDCPA also grants consumers certain important rights. One of these rights is debt validation. Debt collectors are required by the FDCPA to provide a written debt validation notice within 5 days after making contact with an alleged debtor. This notice should include basic information about the debt, notice of 30 days to dispute the debt, and the right to seek verification of the debt. If you have been approached by a debt collector and have not been provided a validation, you have the right to request one immediately. Debt collectors must pause collection efforts until they have complied with a request for validation. A good validation letter should request, at a minimum (i) the identity of the original creditor and a copy of any contract with that creditor; (ii) the age of the debt and copies of invoices and statements; (iii) an explanation of how the amount of the alleged debt was calculated (iv) proof that the debt collector has been authorized by the creditor to collect the debt; and (v) proof that the debt collector is licensed in the state it is seeking to collect the debt. Moreover, consumers can also request verification of debt by having debt collectors confirm that the alleged debt is accurate. This tool is often used if the debt has actually been paid or if there is simply a mistaken identity. Consumers should also be aware of their right to request that debt collectors stop contacting them altogether although, depending on the circumstances, completely cutting lines of communication with a debt collector may not be the best approach.
It should also be noted that in light of COVID-19, some states have enacted additional restrictions on debt collection actions not covered by the FDCPA. Before making any payments or admissions, consumers should consult with an attorney to review their rights. Dealing with debt collectors does not have to be a scary nightmare. The attorneys at Dalton & Tomich can help.