These days, nearly everyone has some form of debt, whether it is credit card debt, a mortgage payment, or a car loan. Sometimes, unforeseen circumstances arise in life which prevents many from paying their bills on time. For example, maybe you were laid off from your job? Or, maybe you were injured and cannot work? Regardless of your situation, not paying your debts on time will inevitably lead to collection calls. As many of you know, some of these collectors can be more aggressive and call more frequently than others. Thus, the question becomes: when are do these collection calls rise to the level of illegal harassment?
Harassment under The Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (“FCCPA”) and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”)
The FDCPA (federal statute) and the FCCPA (state statute) are the two statutes which protect consumers from harassing collection calls in the state of Florida. Under 15 U.S.C. §1692d(5) of the FDCPA, a debt collector is prohibited from causing a telephone to ring or engaging any person in telephone conversation repeatedly or continuously with intent to annoy, abuse, or harass any person at the called number. Under Florida Statute 559.72(7) of the FCCPA, creditors and debt collectors shall not “willfully communicate with the debtor…with such frequency as can reasonably be expected to harass the debtor…” Legally, collectors have the right to contact you and attempt to collect a debt that is owed. To that effect, there is an abundance of case law across the country which states even receiving multiple calls a day, in and of itself, does not violate either statute cited above. There has to be action on behalf of the debtor in order for collection calls to be considered “harassing”. The easiest way for a debtor to convert legal collection calls into illegal collection calls is to verbally tell collectors to stop calling- yes, it is that easy. As almost everything else in the law, there is no black-and-white rule as to how many times a debtor has to request a collector to stop calling before it is considered harassment. Again, collectors have the right to call and attempt to collect an owed debt. From my experience, I can tell you it needs to be at least three (3) times in order to have a viable claim. Debtors need to be able to show a potential judge or jury that they repeatedly told a collector to stop calling, and the collector refused to do so. In a previous blog, I explained why it is very important to document each call from a collector- you want to have concrete facts, rather than generalizations as to when this conduct occurred.
What To Do If You Are Receiving Collection Calls
If you are receiving collection calls, you need to speak with a consumer protection attorney. Almost all attorneys will provide a no-cost consultation to evaluate your case. Undoubtedly, you will be advised to start logging calls in an effort to build a case against a harassing collector. I deal with these types of cases on a daily basis. If you are receiving collection calls, call me or simply email me at email@example.com and tell me what has happened.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) and the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (“FCCPA”) are two statutes that protect consumers from creditors’ and debt collectors’ unfair debt collection practices. Unfortunately, the majority of consumers are unaware these two statutes even exist. Many consumers think since they owe a debt, they must deal with the constant harassment of collection letters and phone calls from creditors and debt collectors. Simply put, they believe they must reap what they sow. Others cannot afford to pay their debts and merely disregard these letters and ignore the calls. However, the FDCPA and FCCPA allow consumers to turn the tables on creditors and debt collectors.
HOW IS IT ILLEGAL FOR A CREDITOR OR DEBT COLLECTOR TO COLLECT A DEBT THAT I OWE?
Yes, creditors and debt collectors are allowed to legally attempt to collect on debts owed by consumers. Legally is the operative word here. There is a list of rules which creditors and debt collectors must abide by when attempting to collect a debt from a consumer. For example, they cannot discuss your debt with third parties such as your friends or family. They cannot call you so frequently as to harass you or call you after you have told them to stop calling. In addition, debt collectors will send collection letters which contain minuscule, technical violations. The average consumer, or attorney for that matter, will not be able to spot these technical violations. That is why it is imperative to have an experienced attorney review these collection letters.
WHAT DO I DO IF I AM RECEIVING COLLECTION LETTERS OR CALLS AND HOW DOES IT BENEFIT ME?
Simple- If you are one of the many consumers who are receiving collection letters or calls, you should consult with an attorney. You may be thinking, well, if I cannot afford to pay my debt, how can I afford to pay an attorney? This is without a doubt the best part of the FDCPA and FCCPA- these two statutes require creditors and debt collectors to pay the consumer’s attorneys’ fees if they are found in violation of either law. In other words, a consumer will never have to pay for attorneys’ fees! I know- it sounds too good to be true. However, this is exactly why the FDCPA and FCCPA were enacted- to provide consumers an avenue of recourse to stop unfair collection practices. These two statutes give consumers a fighting chance and allow them to turn the tables on creditors and debt collectors. In addition to having your attorneys’ fees paid for, consumers are entitled up to $1,000 if a creditor or debt collector violates either of these laws. That’s right- not only will consumers never pay attorneys’ fees, they can also be compensated for creditors’ and debt collectors’ unfair collection practices.
Jon Dubbeld is head of the creditor harassment department at Berkowitz & Myer. He has successfully litigated hundreds of cases across the state of Florida. He may be contacted at Jon@berkmyer.com.