The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act has strict privacy requirements to protect debtors from the embarrassment of having others know they owe a debt, keep them from being fired solely because they owe a debt, and further protect them from overly aggressive debt collection practices. Below is an outline of best practices of your rights to ensure FDCPA compliance when collection agencies are requesting a debt be paid.
When leaving voicemails, they must assume that a phone is shared and anyone could be listening to the voicemails. This is true even if they have a number marked as a personal cell phone. If the phone number has changed or someone other than the debtor does listen to the messages and a voicemail is left with details about the debt, they will have violated the FDCPA. Instead, they must leave voicemails that say nothing more than, “This is an important message for John Doe. Please call 555-123-4567 at your earliest convenience.”
You may never be contacted by debtor via postcard. This is never allowed. The reasoning is that all information is located on the outside of the card where anyone could read it.
Postcards are also not a means of contacting third parties to acquire location information about the debtor. Section 804 of the FDCPA explicitly prohibits them even if you don’t reveal information that must be kept private under the act.
Letters should be in a sealed envelope addressed only to the debtor (you). Letters should be sent by first-class mail to ensure that they are properly forwarded or returned to the collection company if you they an old address — this keeps someone else from receiving them and possibly opening them. The envelope may not have any indication that its contents are regarding a debt. If the business name or logo contains debt, collection, or similar terms, collectors may not use it on the envelope or in a return address visible on the exterior.
Phone Calls to Employers
When a collector calls a work number, they must ask to speak to the you by name. They may not say that they are calling regarding a debt and should not give information other than their own name. They may state the name of their employer only if asked. It is also a privacy violation to imply that they are calling about a debt, for example, if the person answering the phone asks if you, their employee, owes money upon hearing your employer’s name, they cannot make a statement like “You can figure it out.”
If a collector is calling to obtain updated contact information, the same restrictions apply except that they may say that they are seeking updated contact information for that person. They may not state why and again may only give an employer’s name if asked.
Phone Calls to Others
Phone calls to others should be handled in the same way as phone calls to employers. The only exceptions is if they call an attorney who is representing the debtor, the parent of a minor child, or a spouse regarding a joint debt.
If a collector chooses to try to visit you in person, the same privacy restrictions as for phone calls and letters apply. In addition, once they have confirmed that the person answering the door is the debtor, they must quietly tell you the reason that they are visiting so that people within their home, neighbors, and people passing by cannot overhear.
Remember that with any means of communication, repeated communications, communications at odd hours, or other actions that could be construed as having an intent to annoy could be considered separate violations of the FDCPA (Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ).
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