In a country where many people find themselves living with considerable credit card or car loan debt, and where the debt collector industry is thriving, there has never been a better time to focus on debt collector ethics. Believe it or not, a code of debt collector ethics actually exists. Coupled with the federal laws regulating debt collectors, the debt collector ethics rules discussed in this article are an important weapon in your arsenal against harassing and abusive debt collectors.
Debt Collector Horror Stories . . .
In my practice, rarely a day goes by when I don’t hear a horror story about the latest in unethical debt collector conduct. If a debt collector isn’t threatening to call the police on a debtor, or worse yet, impersonating a law enforcement officer; then a collector is stalking or berating a person who is behind on his payments. I shudder at the shocking depths to which some debt collectors will stoop.
I recently heard of a case in Minnesota where debt collectors embedded themselves in a hospital emergency room to attempt to coerce patients to pay for medical services upfront. In addition, two companies recently came on my firm’s radar for particularly unethical practices. Those companies are Asset Recovery Associates (or ARA, Inc.), and Summit Receivables. To learn more about protecting yourself from ARA, Inc., click here. For more information on fighting back against Summit Receivables, click here.
Despite the horror stories, there is definitely a silver lining that you should know about – debt collector ethics. While some might, only half-jokingly, conclude that the terms “debt collector” and “ethics” are mutually exclusive, my clients and I are heartened by the existence of the industry debt collector ethics rules in existence today. The ethics rules supplement the law with regard to fair debt collection practices and serve as a good guide for debtors to protect themselves.
The ACA’s Debt Collector Ethics Code
Like most industries, there is an international association to which many debt collection companies belong. This association is called the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals, or the ACA. The ACA has 5,500 members, representing 125,000 professionals worldwide. While the horror stories, as discussed above, are legion, there are many reputable debt collection companies that do not engage in the harassing conduct characteristic of the worst in the industry.
Indeed, the terrible reputation of many debt collectors in our country served as the impetus for the ACA to create their own Debt Collector Ethics Code. The Debt Collector Ethics Code is meant to hold collectors to a higher standard of professionalism and fair practice.
The most important provisions of the Code are as follows:
- Complaint Resolution Officer. Collection company members are required to designate a Complaint Resolution Officer to receive, and more importantly to resolve, consumer complaints.
- Debt Verification. Members are required to have their collectors verify a debt upon the request of a debtor. Further, collectors must cease all collection activity until the debt is verified for the consumer.
- Debtor Verification. Given the strong potential for identity theft with many outstanding debts, member companies must also adopt reasonable procedures to make sure that collectors do not try to collect against the wrong person.
- Debts Too Old to Collect. The Code forbids collection activity and/or litigation if the debt is outside the statute of limitations. Stated differently, debt collectors cannot seek payment for a debt that is legally too old to collect.
- Chain of Title. The Code encourages the entities that buy debt to obtain supporting documents to establish a chain of title for any accounts they purchase.
The ACA’s Debt Collector Ethics Code reinforces the federal law in this area, and in fact goes beyond. The ACA’s Code applies internationally, whereas the federal law applies only in the U.S. Before discussing the steps you can take to protect yourself against abusive debt collector tactics, let’s take a quick look at the federal law on debt collectors.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)
In 1977, Congress passed the FDCPA with the purpose of promoting fair debt collection and giving consumers the ability to hold collectors liable for harassing conduct. The FDCPA employs two approaches to regulate debt collectors: (i) requiring good behavior, and (ii) prohibiting bad behavior. Here is a quick list to give you an idea of the law’s provisions:
Under the FDCPA, debt collectors are required to do the following:
- Identify themselves to debtors.
- Give the name and address of the original creditor (the entity that originally held the debt).
- Tell the debtor of his or her right to dispute the debt.
- Provide debt verification.
- File a lawsuit in the proper venue.
Also under the FDCPA, debt collectors are prohibited from doing the following:
- Calling debtors by phone before 8am or after 9pm.
- Continuing to contact the debtor after the debtor has told the collector to stop.
- Calling with the intent to annoy, abuse, or harass the debtor.
- Contacting a debtor at his or her workplace.
- Contacting a debtor who is represented by an attorney.
- Using deceit or misrepresentation to collect a debt (like claiming to be a police officer or attorney).
- Publishing a debtor’s name on a “bad debt” list.
- Threatening arrest or legal action.
- Using abusive or profane language.
What To Do If A Debt Collector Contacts You
Given the ACA’s Debt Collector Ethics Code, and the provisions of the FDCPA, there are four main things to keep in mind when dealing with an aggressive debt collector:
- Have The Debt Collector Give You Information First. Most of the complaints filed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2016 were about consumers being asked to pay a debt they did not owe. So, if you get a call from a collector, don’t give in to any pressure to pay right away. Rather, ask the collect to verify the debt for you, and also ask for a validation letter that gives details about the alleged debt, and how to challenge it. Then, tell the collector that you will get back to him or her, and compare the information from the collector with your own records.
- Make Sure Collectors Follow The Rules. Now that you know the provisions of the ACA’s Debt Collector Ethics Code and the FDCPA, you have the tools to demand that the collector follow them.
- You Control The Communication. Debt collectors are prohibited by law from threatening you, using profane or abusive language, or contacting you after you tell them to stop.
- No Misrepresentations or Deceit. Debt collectors cannot lie to about who they are, how much you owe, or the consequences of not paying.
- You Can Challenge the Debt. You are not powerless if a debt collector calls, saying you owe a debt. Both the FDCPA and the ACA’s Debt Collector Ethics Code stipulate that you have a right to dispute a debt. If you challenge a debt within 30 days of the first contact, no collection activity can occur until the dispute is settled.
- 1.Use The CFPB Is Available. If you feel that your rights are being violated, or a debt collector is behaving improperly, you can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
- 2. Consult with a Seasoned Consumer Lawyer. Don’t go it alone against a debt collector, seek legal advice from an attorney specializing in consumer law.
Agruss Law Firm has represented thousands of clients who were facing aggressive debt collectors. The expert team of attorneys at Agruss stopped the abusive tactics and obtained significant judgments against the collectors for their improper behavior. Contact us today at www.agrussconsumerlaw.com for a free consultation.