I understand that you want to know more about your rights against professional debt collectors. I know from my years at legal aid that dealing with professional debt collectors can be most stressful. Too many people have suffered too long without asking for help. An embarassment about owing money keeps some people from getting help they urgently need. So, I have prepared this letter.
Fortunately, the United States Congress has passed one of its strongest consumer protection laws to govern the activities of debt collectors. This law is called Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 16 U.S.C. 1692, and sequence (it is in Title 16 of the United States Code, starting at Section 1692). The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) wrote a brochure that describes this law and the rights it gives to you. Generally, debt collectors are not allowed to use any harassing or deceptive tactics in an attempt to collect a debt. Even if you owe the debt, no debt collector may use repeated telephone calls to harass you, nor make threats of lawsuits, or other collection activities, unless they are legally authorized to take those steps, and have decided to do so in the manner they have threatened. Also, a debt collector is required to notify you in writing of certain rights. These rights include your right to dispute the debt, to ask for verification of the debt, or to dispute only a portion of the debt. The debt collector must send the notice within five days of their first contact with you. Further, no debt collector is allowed to contact you at a time, place, or in a manner that the debt collector knows it is inconvenient for you. If you write to the debt collector asking to cease communications, or to have telephone calls stopped, the debt collector is then prohibited from calling you by telephone. Finally, if the debt collector knows you are represented by an attorney, such as myself, the debt collector is required to communicate only to that attorney, unless the debt collector's attempts to communicate through the attorney have become unreasonably unproductive.
There are several options you can pursue to enforce your rights. First, however, I would like to give you some suggestions about how you can begin collecting evidence for your case. Certainly, you should keep everything you receive about your debts. It is particularly important that you save the envelopes in which you receive communications, because the postmarks on those envelopes would be important evidence. Also, I would recommend that you begin writing a letter to me describing the harassment you have suffered. I understand that it can be difficult to try to remember everything all at once. So I think it might be helpful if you just start a letter to me. Your letter can include, as best as you can remember, the dates, times, places, witnesses, and discussions of any telephone calls you received. Then, if you receive any more telephone calls, you should have a pen and paper handy so that you can write down as much as you can remember about what was said. Be sure to note the date, time, and the name of the person calling in each telephone call.
Now, I would like to make four suggestions about how you can respond. First, I would suggest that you continue collecting evidence about the harassment you are suffering. You would have the right to file a lawsuit directly against the debt collector to recover compensation for your suffering. You can also seek statutory damages up to $1,000 for the violation of the federal law, attorneys' fees for the lawyer who might represent you, and injunctive relief that could prohibit the debt collector from violating other consumers' rights. One thing you can do to help build evidence is to write to the debt collector yourself to ask that the debt collector not telephone you, and cease communications on your account. You can just make a note on the back of a check saying that you do not want any more telephone calls or communications from this debt collector. Or, you can send your letter by certified mail so the post office will return a card proving that the debt collector received your letter. After the debt collector received such a written notice saying they should not call you, any further calls to you would increase the debt collector's liability to you. Also, it would make your case easier to prove.
Second, I can send what I call a "protection letter" that would tell the debt collector that I represent you and that they should not harass you anymore. I generally find these types of protection letters to be effective at stopping harassment by debt collectors. However, once I send this type of letter, the debt collector will know that it might be sued, and they will begin to cover up what they did to make it harder for us to prove. However, if your harassment has really caused you to be anxious, I would be most happy to send this type of protection letter just to get the harassment stopped.
Third, if there is any reason you feel you should not have to pay this debt, I would like you to tell me about it. It may be that you have defenses, or other legitimate disputes with this debt that could protect your rights.
Fourth, there are other services available to debtors when they become overwhelmed with debt. You may want to consider contacting a bankruptcy attorney to see if the federal bankruptcy laws might afford you some relief. You can assess whether a "Chapter 13" might be better for you than a "Chapter 7". Even without a bankruptcy proceeding, you may find relief through a trusteeship, or through a consumer credit counseling service.
If you would like me to help you evaluate any of these options, I would like to have copies of all the papers you have about your case. You may mail me copies, or you can bring them to our office and have the copies made here. I do not recommend that you send originals that might get lost in the mail. When I review your papers, I may be able to point out violations of your rights, or other defenses you might have. Also, your letter should explain what type of case you might have, and what it is you would like me to do for you.
If you have any other questions about your case, I hope you would feel free to call on me.
Very truly yours,
Richard R. Renner
Tate & Renner