Ever gotten a phone call from a debt collector and wondered what debt they were talking about? Maybe you had no idea about the debt and they were not explaining it well to you. Perhaps you tried to get more information and were shut down or even threatened. This happens more than you might imagine.
There is a whole industry out there that buys debts and has a high stake in making you pay up. Many debt collection companies have been prosecuted by government agencies for their illegal activities. Others have been sued by consumers who have been mistreated, threatened, or swindled.
In recent years, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been working hard to implement laws to protect consumers. As a consumer, you may have rights that you didn’t even know existed. Let’s take a look at some of the newer laws in place to protect you from unethical debt collection.
In late 2020, new rules were introduced that require debt collectors to give consumers detailed disclosures at the very beginning of their interactions with you.
This is important because so often, when debt collectors are vague, it is hard to understand what they are discussing. Their purposeful sleight of hand has caused anxiety and worry, even if the consumer doesn’t actually legally owe the debt.
By law, debt collectors must now provide detailed disclosures about supposed debt so that you know which debt is being referred to and can respond appropriately.
Don’t Pay Zombie Debt
If the debt collector is calling about debt that is past the statute of limitations, you don’t legally need to pay it. In fact, if the debt is old and past the statute of limitations in your state, making payments on the debt can cause you to legally owe the debt again!
This old type of debt is called time-barred debt or “Zombie Debt” and can literally come back to legal life if you make one payment. You can even be sued for the debt if you acknowledge it with a payment. However, if you don’t pay anything, the debt collector cannot legally sue you or continue to harass you.
Part of the newer FDCPA rules prohibit debt collectors from making threats to sue, or from actually suing, consumers on time-barred debt. “Collectors are prohibited from, and will be strictly liable for, suing or threatening to sue a consumer to collect a time-barred debt, which is defined as a debt for which the applicable statute of limitations has passed.” (1)
Consumer Rights for Debt Collection Process
Debt collectors are now required by law to provide your consumer rights to you at the outset of their interactions with you. The disclosures make it possible for you to ask questions and assert your rights when handling threats or harassment.
Debt collectors must by law disclose these rights:
Your right to dispute the debt: You always have the right to dispute the debt. This is important because many debts may not even be yours. Often, there is confusion in billing departments and when debt is bought and sold. You may not owe the debt or they may even have the wrong account!
Your right to request information about the original creditor. This consumer right gives you the ability to know where the debt came from originally. When a debt collection agency buys your debt, you owe the debt to a new company and may not recognize where the debt came from originally.
A statement that indicates the communication is from a collector and is about a debt. Knowing this information makes it possible to assert your rights under the FDCPA’s consumer protections regarding debt collection.
Read more about your consumer rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
Information to Help You Respond
Debt collectors must also include information to help you respond to them. They must contact you orally, in writing, or electronically before they can report your debt to a consumer reporting agency (CRA). One of the following actions must occur before they can report your debt:
- Speaking with you about your debts by telephone
Mailing a letter to you (and waiting to find out if it is undeliverable)
Sending an electronic message about the debt to you
Know Your Rights
If you are contacted by a debt collector and have no idea what they are talking about, look to your consumer rights to inform you of your next steps. Find out what the debt is for, who the original creditor is, how old the debt is, whether the debt is time-barred debt, and how to contact the debt collector to dispute the debt. Taking action for your rights gives you the ability to fight for what is just.
Seek an Advocate
If you are facing a debt collection agency that is harassing you or breaking other laws, contact an experienced consumer rights attorney to join the fight for your rights. Consumer protection attorneys specialize in knowing your rights and how to defend you from unjust and unethical debt collection agencies. Start getting out from under the thumb of unjust charges that are not yours to pay. Contact an attorney who specializes in this kind of fight today and get started finding your freedom again.