The unfair debt collection practices attorneys at the Florida Accident Injury Law Firm of Gilman Law LLP is dedicated to handling civil litigation cases involving abusive and unfair debt collection, consumer harassment, violations of the fair debt collection practices act and violations of other debt collection practices acts. Debt collection is a multi-billion dollar competitive industry and the collection agencies’ profits are based upon the amounts collected. This scenario is ripe for the use of abusive debt collection tactics in attempting to collect debts. Congressional findings that the use of abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection practices among the industry contributes to a number of personal bankruptcies, marital instability, loss of jobs, and invasions of personal privacy led to the enactment of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Florida has its own version that supplements the FDCPA titled Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (FCCPA).
Consumer protection acts like the FDCPA and FCCPA require debt collectors to treat consumers with respect, fairness, and dignity and provide they must be truthful and non-threatening. Congress gave the power to police the abusive debt collectors to the people and, if the abusive debt collector violates a consumer protection act like the FDCPA, the consumer has the right to sue in federal or state court. The top 10 abusive consumer collection practices and debt collection violations include the following:
- Collecting money not owed
- Calls at work
- Contacting 3rd parties
- Written Notice
- Proof of debts
- Refusing to cease contact
- No “Mini-Miranda”
- Contact after attorney representation
Harassment and harassing conduct by abusive debt collectors attempting to collect consumer debts is a violation of the law in Florida. A brief description of each of these debt collection violations and unfair debt collection practices are listed below. It is important to note that these are but a short list of the numerous debt collection violations that abusive debt collectors violation regularly:
- Harassment – There is no actual definition of “harassing conduct” by a debt collector, but we know it when we see it! Debt collectors abuse consumers in many ways. Common examples of harassing conduct include numerous daily phone calls to alleged debtors, their family and friends, calling on back to back days, repeated calls with no messages, hang-ups, using social media networks such as Facebook and the use of “robo-dialers.” Lies, misleading comments, speaking in a belittling manner, embarrassing, argumentative and rude conduct are examples of harassing conduct.
- Collecting debts not owed – No debt collector, including banks, mortgage companies, collection agencies or other financial institutions can attempt to collect one penny more than what is actually owed. This includes any “fees”, such as late fees when alleged debtor is not late, penalties, higher interest rates, attorney fees, costs or any miscellaneous fees. Obviously if an alleged debtor doesn’t owe the money it is a violation of the law for a collector to try and force the alleged debtor to pay the money. A favorite scheme of debt collectors is to try and “guilt trip” family members into paying family debts they don’t owe.
- Threats – Creating a “false sense of urgency” or suggesting something bad will happen such as arrest, criminal prosecution, jail, repossession of all the alleged debtors property (cars, homes, furniture) garnishing wages, threatening to file lawsuits or ruining credit. Unless a collector has the legal ability and intention to do what they say, it is illegal for them to mention it.
- Calls at work – Phone calls to the workplace can and do cause many serious problems, which is why debt collectors make the calls. Any calls to the workplace, especially after a collector is told not to call, such as speaking to or leaving messages with a receptionist, calling the cell phone while alleged debtor is at work or calling alleged debtors direct line, is a violation.
- Contacting 3rd Parties – Collectors may not speak to any party about a debt without the express permission of the alleged debtor, including the spouse or any other family member, neighbors, friends, co-workers, or references. Any outside contact is a violation of the law.
- Written Notice – Debt collectors must send a written notice stating the amount of the debt, the creditor to whom the debt is owed, and a statement that the debtor has 40 days to in writing dispute the debt. Upon receiving written notice that a consumer disputes a debt, the collector within 40days must obtain written verification and validation of the amount of the debt, the creditor to whom the debt is owed and must mail said verification to the consumer.
- Proof of debts – Debt collectors are required by federal law to send “verification and validation” of a debt when the alleged debtor in writing disputes the debt within 40 days of a debt collector’s first contact. The debt collector must send supporting documentation proving a debt is owed and until they send proof of debt they may not communicate or attempt to collect the alleged debt. It is important the alleged debtor request validation and verification within 40 days of a debt collector’s first contact and that the dispute letter be certified return receipt requested, to establish a paper trail.
- Cease and Desist – Any and all communications, including telephone calls and letters, must immediately stop once a debt collector receives a “cease and desist” letter. There is no specific required language, only a directive that all communications must stop. All cease and desist letters should be sent with return receipt requested.
- No “Mini-Miranda” – In the initial communication, the debt collectors must state “This is an attempt to collect a debt and any information will be used for that purpose.” In every conversation, message, or letter they must state they are a debt collector. Debt collectors must also identify their company name during the communications, whether verbal or written. It is a violation of federal law if a debt collector fails to provide this required information.
- Contact after attorney representation – Once a collector is told a individual is represented by all conversations, messages, letters or any other communication must immediately stop.
Elements of a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act Claim
In order to have a claim under the FDCPA, the following elements must be present:
- The debt must be primarily for personal, family, or household purposes;
- The collector must be collecting on the debt of another; and
- A violation of the Act.
The State of Florida has given its citizens even greater protections which prevent the same type of behavior by abusive collection practices of the original creditor.
How Much Can I Recover From A Debt Collection Violation?
Both the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (FCCPA) allow an abused consumer that is a victim of abusive or unfair debt collection practices to recover statutory damages up to $1,000 and all actual damages sustained. In addition to statutory damages and actual damages, a victim of debt collection harassment may also be able to recover his or her attorney’s fees and costs incurred in bringing the lawsuit.
What To Do If You’re Subjected To Unfair Debt Collection Practices
The consumer protection and unfair debt collection practices attorneys at Gilman Law LLP are well-versed in abusive debt collection litigation involving collection harassment, FDCPA violations, FCCPA violations, and other consumer protection collection laws. Our abusive debt collection attorneys have the knowledge, experience, and passion to hold abusive debt collectors and collection harassment offenders accountable for the harm they cause consumers and their families. If you are being harassed by an abusive creditor or an abusive debt collector, contact our unfair debt collection practices attorneys today for a Free Debt Collection Harassment Consultation or call toll free at (888) 252-0048. Our team of experienced debt collection harassment attorneys will assess your case to determine whether we can help stop the harassing collector and abusive debt collection calls.