If you are struggling with debt, there’s a good chance you are also struggling with unwanted contact from debt collectors. Sometimes these are your actual creditors, the ones you signed a contract with, but often the person calling you works for another company altogether because your debt has been sold to a debt collection agency. No matter who is contacting you about your debts, it’s not a good feeling. And when debt collectors cross the line, it can be downright scary. Knowing your rights where debt collection is concerned is important and empowering. Here’s some information about debt collection in Colorado that can help you get some control back if you are in that situation.
THE FAIR DEBT COLLECTION PRACTICES ACT
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, often referred to as the “FDCPA” was passed by Congress to reduce abusive, deceptive and unfair practices by debt collectors and to give consumers affected by that abusive behavior a remedy for violations: cash damages.
The FDCPA applies to debt collectors working to collect debts due to someone other than themselves. This means that the Act does not apply to in-house collections, such as when a department store with whom you have a credit card contacts you directly. There is an exception if the collector uses any name other than his own which would indicate that a third person is collecting or attempting to collect the debt.
WHAT THEY CANNOT DO
Talking to Other People: When contacting a third party (anyone other than you), debt collectors can only attempt to find out where you live and where they can contact you. They must correctly identify themselves, but they cannot tell the third party that they are calling about debt collections. They cannot call third parties if they already know where to find you. They cannot call third parties more than once (unless that person asked them to call back).
Talking to You: Debt collectors cannot contact you at unusual or inconvenient times. This means no calls before 9:00am or after 8:00pm (unless you or a court has authorized times outside of these boundaries). Debt collectors cannot contact you if you are represented by an attorney. Debt collectors cannot call you at work if they know your work does not allow you to receive such calls (tell them this the first time they call!). And very importantly, they have to tell you who they are and, if you ask, who they are working for, and that anything you tell them is going to be used to collect on the debt.
They Must Play Nice: The FDCPA prohibits abusive and harassing behavior. That means that debt collectors cannot threaten you, your reputation or your property. They cannot use obscene language. They can’t keep calling you with the intent to harass, annoy or abuse you. Along these same lines, debt collectors cannot mislead, deceive or lie to you about 1) the type, amount and character of the debt, 2) who they are (eg. saying they are an attorney when they are not ), 3) what they can do to you (eg. they cannot say that they will call your boss and disclose your debt situation, they cannot say they are going to have you arrested, and they cannot threaten to take your property unless they are allowed to do that under the law).
Additionally, debt collectors cannot report false information about your debts to anyone, including the credit bureaus, and they can’t send you letters on official-looking letterhead that pretends to be from someone it is not.
WHAT TO DO
Put it in Writing!: Write the debt collector and tell them you want them to cease all communications with you. Once you do this they cannot contact you anymore except to 1) tell you they are stopping their collection efforts, or 2) to notify you they are going to, or did take another action (such as wage garnishment or pursuing a judgment) to collect the debt, as long as they normally do take that action (in other words, they can’t say they are going to take you to court if they have never done that in the normal course of their business).
Don’t Do Nothing!: Within five days of the initial contact, debt collectors must send you a document identifying the amount of the debt, who they are collecting it for and a summary of the actions you must take if you want to dispute the debt. If you think they have the amount wrong, or the dates wrong, or anything wrong, follow those instructions and protect your rights!!! Keep copies! Send things registered mail!
Keep Records: If you have unscrupulous debt collectors making you miserable and you think their actions violate the FDCPA, keep records. Record the time, date, content of the communication and the name of any caller. Why? Because these violations come with a remedy: cash damages. You can receive $1,000 per violation if you can prove it in Court! That is not only money for you, but a huge slap in the face for the nasty pieces of work that Congress had in mind when the drafted the FDCPA. Going after those (oh, I could really get colorful here) jerks keeps them from getting away with it again and again.
COLORADO STATUTES OF LIMITATION
There is one very important piece of advice when dealing with debt collectors: Beware of extending the statue of limitations! Colorado puts a limit on how long creditors can seek to collect on old debts. These statutes of limitations range from Three Years for certain contracts to 20 years for District Court judgments. (An attorney can answer questions about specific cases.) What debt collectors try to do when your debt is about to expire (meaning no one can bother you about it ever again) is to attempt to get you to pay some small amount on the debt. Why? Because if you do, the statute of limitations starts all over again. Gotcha!
In conclusion, if you are struggling with debt, don’t allow yourself to become a victim of illegal debt collection practices. Make sure you know your rights under the FDCPA, and if someone is breaking the law make sure to keep track of it in detail. A bankruptcy attorney can help you pursue a claim against anyone who violated your legal rights while collecting a debt. Additionally, bankruptcy can help you wipe out that debt and wipe out the possibility that someone will violate your rights trying to collect.