The phone rings.
I don’t recognize the number, so I don’t answer. The caller doesn’t leave a message.
The next day? The same number calls and still no message.
And when I would call back, no one would answer.
The day after that? The same thing.
This went on for weeks.
Finally, out of frustration, I answered.
As it turns out, a local utility company goofed and mistakenly turned me over to a collections agency, which went after me with as much tenacity, courtesy and common sense as a rabid dog.
Fortunately, there is something called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Parting from my usual blog format, this provides a great opportunity to introduce you to this Act and how it can benefit you. The Act is a federal law aimed at protecting consumers like you and me from pesky, annoying and downright abusive and deceptive bill collectors.
What specifically is prohibited?
The Act prohibits a whole laundry list of unsavory practices. In general, it prohibits anyone who regularly collects debt for others from calling you at unreasonable times, threatening violence or criminal acts, using profanity, repeatedly calling you, lying to you and misleading you about who they are or why they are calling, among other things.
How do you file a complaint against a debt collector?
In Georgia, a complaint can be filed with the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection. If it is an attorney acting as a debt collecter, you should contact the State Bar of Georgia. And, at the federal level (when there isn’t a government “shutdown”), a complaint can be filed with the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov, by phone at 877-FTC-HELP, or by mail at:
Consumer Response Center
Federal Trade Commission
Washington, DC 20580-0001
What about a private lawsuit against a debt collector?
You have the right to sue a debt collector for one year from the time of the violation. The law allows you to recover damages, attorneys' fees, court costs and an additional amount up to $1,000.
Where should you go for more information?
The Georgia Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection is a great resource for any number of consumer issues, including the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Here is a link to a quick and easy Q&A on the law:
And here is a link to another great overview of your rights under the law from the Federal Trade Commission: http://www.federalreserve.gov/boarddocs/supmanual/cch/fairdebt.pdf
Be sure to check out the last page of this PDF. It contains a three-question survey to help determine if a debt collector is violating the Act.
Know Your Rights is a blog written by Gregory J. Gelpi, an Augusta attorney and owner of The Gelpi Law Firm, P.C. For more information about Greg, go to www.gelpilawfirm.com or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Know Your Rights is for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice. To obtain legal advice, speak with an attorney. The law varies from state to state and outcomes of individual legal matters can vary depending on the particular facts and circumstances. This blog does not create an attorney-client relationship between either the author of this blog or any attorney included in this blog and any reader of this blog.