5 Big Rights Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
1. You are entitled to proof that the debt is valid.
You have the right to dispute the debt and request validation from the debt collector – proof that the debt is valid, that it is yours, and that they have a legal right to collect it. In order to obtain validation of the debt, you need to send a written request to the debt collector within 30 days of receiving their initial validation notice. Once you dispute a debt or make a written request for validation, the debt collector may not call you again until they have provided you with written validation of the debt.
2. You have a right to not be contacted at work, at inconvenient times, or even at all.
Debt collectors are prohibited from contacting you at unusual times – typically they can only call between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. Once you inform a debt collector that you do not want to be contacted at work, they are prohibited from calling you at work again. You can request in writing that a debt collector cease to contact you entirely – once you do this, they are no longer legally permitted to contact you at all; however, they can still file a lawsuit against you to recover the debt.
3. Certain income is protected from garnishment, even if the debt is valid.
Many federal benefits, including Social Security, veterans benefits, military annuities and survivors benefits, and certain civil and federal retirement and disability benefits, are exempt from garnishment. Even if you legally owe a debt and the debt collector obtains a judgment against you, they cannot garnish this type of income. They cannot even threaten to garnish this type of income if they know it is all the income you have.
4. You have a right to privacy – debt collectors cannot contact third parties about your debts.
Debt collectors cannot embarrass you by discussing your debts with family members, employers, neighbors, or any other third party without your permission. The only time a debt collector can contact a third party is to try to obtain current contact information for you – but even then they cannot discuss the debt. If you engage an attorney, the debt collector can discuss the debt with your attorney and must stop contacting you directly.
5. If a debt collector breaks the rules, you can sue them for damages.
If a debt collector has violated any provisions of the Federal Debt Collections Practices Act, you have the right to sue them in state or federal court for up to one year from the date of the violation. A court may award statutory damages of up to $1,000 for any violation of the FDCPA, and can award you court costs and attorney’s fees as well, even if you have no actual damages, to provide an incentive for attorneys to take these cases. If you have actual damages, such as emotional distress, embarrassment, or physical symptoms, you may be entitled to compensation for those as well. In Massachusetts, any violation of the FDCPA is a per se (automatic) violation of Massachusetts Consumer Protection Statutes.
If you feel your rights have been violated under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, contact Culik Law for a free consultation.