What are My Rights When Dealing with Debt Collectors?
If you fall behind on loan or mortgage payments, your creditors may assign a debt collector to contact you. This may be an uncomfortable situation, and you should know that you do have the right to be treated fairly. The Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Illinois Collection Agency Act and the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Practices Act will protect you from certain unfair treatment; however, these laws do not forgive any debt you owe.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is the federal law which governs what debt collectors may and may not do. A debt collector may contact you in person, by mail, telephone, telegram or email, but it must be at a reasonable time of day, between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. A debt collector may not contact you at work if he or she knows that your employer does not allow such calls. A debt collector may contact people other than you or your attorney to find out where you live or work, but cannot tell anyone other than you or your attorney that you owe money. Once a debt collector has notified you by phone, he or she must send you a written notice within five days revealing the amount you owe, the name of the creditor to whom you owe money and what to do if you dispute the debt. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is the federal agency responsible for the enforcement of the FDCPA.
A debt collector may not harass, oppress or abuse you with threats, obscene or profane language, make false statements (which includes implying that you have committed a crime or saying you will be arrested if the debt isn’t paid), or engage in unfair practices such as forcing you to accept collect calls or pay for telegrams or collect interest or fees which are not authorized by the contract or by law.
You can stop a debt collector from contacting you by writing a letter to the collection agency telling him or her to stop. Once the agency receives your letter, it may not contact you again, except to notify you that some specific action will be taken.
If a collector contacts you about a debt, you may want to talk to them at least once to see if you can resolve the matter – even if you don’t think you owe the debt, can’t repay it immediately, or think that the collector is contacting you by mistake. If you decide after contacting the debt collector that you don’t want the collector to contact you again, tell the collector – in writing – to stop contacting you.
If you don’t want the hassle of dealing with a debt collector or if the debt collector broke the law, it is in your best interest to retain an attorney to represent you. The debt collector must contact the attorney then, rather than you. Should you wish to sue the debt collector for a violation of the FDCPA, you must do so within one year from the date that the debt collector broke the law. If you win, the judge can require the collector to pay you for any damages you can prove you suffered because of the illegal collection practices, like lost wages and medical bills. The judge can also require the debt collector to pay you up to $1,000 in additional damages and award you your attorney’s fees and court costs.
Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates represents consumers in various federal courts around the country for violation of federal consumer protection laws. O. Randolph Bragg, the head of our Consumer Law department, is a founding member of the National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA), where he served on the board of directors. This organization takes an active role in advocating consumer interests before Congress, the courts and administrative agencies. In December of 2006, he was honored as the Consumer Attorney of the Year. The NACA recognizes him for his “particularly outstanding work on behalf of consumers.” On November 13, 2010 Mr. Bragg received the Vern Countryman Award for “Excellence and Dedication in the practice of consumer law on behalf of low-income consumers” from the National Consumer Law Center. On October 13, 2011 the Santa Clara University School of Law Katherine & George Alexander Community Law Center presented him with the Community Award for “dedication to consumers and consumer law.” Since 2008, Mr. Bragg has been continuously named an Illinois Super Lawyer.
Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates invites you for a free telephone or in person consultation to discuss any questions you may have regarding consumer protection. Even if you do not wish to retain an attorney, we may be able to set you on the right path for free. Please call our Chicago office at (312) 372-8822, or our Joliet office at (815) 723-8822, or you can call our toll free number at (800)-985-1819.