Your Rights Under the FDCPA: Recognizing Debt Collection Abuse

How may a debt collector contact me?

A debt collector may contact you in person, or by mail, telephone, telegram, or fax.  A debt collector may NOT contact you by postcard.   These days, most debt collection contacts occur by telephone.

When the debt collector first contacts you, you have important rights to notice of the debt and to dispute the debt.  Look here for more information about your right to dispute the debt.

When may a debt collector call me?

A debt collector may telephone you at times that are not inconvenient.  Usually, this means that a debt collector may call between 8 AM and 9 PM.  However, if you have special circumstances (for example, you work at  night and sleep during the day) those hours may be different.

How often can a debt collector call me?

That depends.  Under the FDCPA, a debt collector may not call any person repeatedly or continuously with the intent to annoy, abuse, or harass them.  In practice, though, it can be difficult to determine whether and when a debt collector has crossed this line.  According to the Federal Trade Commission, a debt collector may almost certainly call you more than once, but six calls per day is probably too many.  Between these extremes, it depends on the facts of your particular case.

Can a debt collector call me at work?

Not if the debt collector has reason to believe that your employer does not allow you to receive such calls.  Many people’s employers do not allow them to take personal phone calls.  If that is true in your case, inform the debt collector immediately.

Can a debt collector call my employer, friends or family?

Yes, under certain limited circumstances.  A debt collector may contact any person for the purpose of correcting or confirming your contact information.  However, the debt collector may NOT identify himself as a debt collector or tell the person that you owe a debt.  Also, the debt collector may NOT call the person more than once (unless the person asks the debt collector to call again or the debt collector reasonably believes that the person gave wrong or incomplete information but now has correct information).

Know Your Rights!

Under the FDCPA, a debt collector may NOT call a third party, such as your employer, friends or family, if:

  • he or she knows how to contact you directly
  • he or she knows that you are represented by an attorney

A debt collector can NEVER discuss your debts with third parties.


Can a debt collector contact me if I am represented by an attorney?

No.  The FDCPA provides that as long as the debt collector knows that you are represented by an attorney, the debt collector cannot contact you directly.

What kinds of things can debt collectors say to me?

Debt collectors can try to make you feel guilty about owing money.  They can ask you to make a payment agreement, and they can encourage you to borrow money from another source in order to pay them.  It is their job to pressure you into paying them first, before your other debts — even if paying the debt collector is not in your best interests.  Debt collectors use many different strategies to do this.  It is your job to stay strong:  Don’t agree to pay a debt collector if you need to pay other, more important debts first, and learn to recognize when the debt collector has crossed the line and violated the FDCPA.

Know Your Rights!

Debt collectors violate the FDCPA when they make harassing, threatening, or misleading statements in order to trick you into making payments.  Don’t be fooled!  Learn to recognize when debt collectors cross the line, and stand up for your rights!

Harassing and/or Abusive Statements violate the FDCPA:

  • Threatening to have you arrested or jailed
  • Threatening to take your SSI or other protected income
  • Threatening to take your household furniture
  • Threatening to cause physical injury to you or your property
  • Threatening to send false information about you to the credit reporting agencies
  • Using obscene or profane language

False and/or Misleading Statements violate the FDCPA:

  • Misrepresenting the character, amount, or legal status of the debt
  • Making empty threats to scare you
  • Pretending to work for a credit reporting agency
  • Pretending to work for a government agency
  • Falsely claiming to be an attorney or to work with attorneys
  • Sending you fake legal papers to confuse you, or telling you to ignore real legal papers.

Abusive and/or Unfair Practices violate the FDCPA:

  • Calling you or any other person repeatedly with intent to annoy, harass, or abuse you, or any person at that number
  • Calling you after you have sent a cease letter.
  • Calling or contacting you without disclosing that they are debt collectors trying to collect a debt
  • Collecting interest, fees, collection expenses, or other charges that are not authorized by your original payment agreement
  • Soliciting postdated checks with the intent to threaten to expose you to criminal charges, or soliciting postdated checks and then threatening to deposit them early.
  • Contacting you by postcard, or contacting you in any way that would disclose to a third party that they are debt collectors.

Are you experiencing any of the above?  Call the NYC Financial Justice Hotline at 212-925-4929, or click here to request assistance.


How can I make a debt collector stop contacting me?

Write a letter to the debt collector stating that you refuse to pay the debt or that you want the debt collector to stop contacting you (or both).  This letter is called a “cease letter.” You can use this sample cease letter (PDF) as a model.   As always, you should send the letter certified mail, return receipt requested, and keep a copy for your records.

Know Your Rights!

You can stop debt collectors from contacting you by sending them a letter, called a “cease letter,” stating that you refuse to pay the debt or that you want them to stop contacting you (or both!).  You can use this sample cease letter (PDF) as a model. Once the debt collectors get this letter, they cannot contact you except:

  • to advise you that it will not contact you again;
  • to notify you that it may take certain steps that it typically takes in this situation (such as filing a debt collection lawsuit or reporting your debt to the credit reporting agencies); or,
  • to notify you that it will take such steps.

Stay alert to wily debt collection tactics!  Debt collectors violate the FDCPA when they try to scare you by sending you “notification” that they “may” file a lawsuit against you if they don’t typically sue people and have no intention of following through on their threats.

Are you being harassed by debt collectors?  Call the NYC Financial Justice Hotline at 212-925-4929, or click here to request assistance.


What should I do if a debt collector refuses to stop contacting me?

Have you written a cease letter to the debt collector?  Many people waste a lot of time talking to debt collectors on the phone, trying to convince them to stop calling.  That approach is unlikely to succeed, because the FDCPA provides that debt collectors don’t have to stop contacting you unless you send them a letter.

If you have already sent a cease letter, but the debt collector ignored it, you can file a lawsuit and ask the court to order the debt collectors to stop contacting you.  If you are thinking of filing a lawsuit, you will need to have proof of two things:  (1) the debt collector received your cease letter, and (2) the debt collector continued to contact you after receiving it.  If you kept a copy of your letter and sent it by certified mail, return receipt requested, you have proof of the first.  For the second, consider recording your telephone calls.  At the very least, you should keep a log of debt collection contacts.

For more information about affirmative steps you can take to fight back against debt collection harassment, look here.

Is it legal to record my conversations with debt collectors?

In New York, it is legal to record your own conversations with debt collectors.  You do not need to advise the debt collector that you are recording the call.  The law may be different in other states.  In some states, it is against the law to record your own telephone conversations, and doing so could even subject you to criminal prosecution.  Here is a handy guide to telephone recording laws in all fifty states, but please note that New Economy Project cannot guarantee its accuracy.

Should I record my conversations with debt collectors?

If you get frequent calls from debt collectors, you should seriously consider recording your calls.  If you record your calls, you will have proof of what was said between you and the debt collector.  If you make a payment agreement with the debt collector and the debt collector fails to live up to its end of the bargain, you can use the recording to enforce the agreement.  If the debt collector is violating your rights under the FDCPA, you can use the recording as evidence for a complaint or lawsuit.

How do I record my conversations with debt collectors?
You can purchase a recording device at a home electronics store, such as Radio Shack or a similar store.  These devices are inexpensive (around $30 for a basic model) and easy to use.  If you tell the clerk the make and model of your telephone, the clerk can recommend the appropriate device.


More Information

Debt Collection Basics

Your Rights Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)

Disputing the Debt

Negotiating with Debt Collectors

What is Exempt from Debt Collection?

Sources:  Federal Trade Commission; Legal Aid Society, Too Many Debts?; New Economy Project.

Disclaimer:  This site provides general information for consumers and links to other sources of information.  This site does not provide legal advice, which you can only get from an attorney.  New Economy Project has no control over the information on linked sites.

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