As you may already know, consumers in the United States are protected by a number of consumer protection laws designed to make sure merchants and service providers do not take more than a reasonable amount of consumers’ money.
One consumer protection law, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, outlines how debt collectors are permitted to do their job and puts certain restrictions on them. Each year, the Federal Trade Commission issues a report on the state of various consumer protection laws and its recommendations for modifications and changes in rules and enforcement.
Here’s a look at what the FTC had to say about 2010.
Debt Collection Complaints in 2010
Last year, consumer debt collection complaints topped the list, at 140,036 individual filings (an increase from 119,609 in 2009). Specifically, people identified these debt collection issues:
- Repeated or continuous phone calls: Debt collectors are explicitly restricted from calling debtors repeatedly or with the intent to harass or annoy. Further, the FDCPA mandates that debt collectors can call only between the hours of 8 am and 9 pm local time.
- Misrepresentation of a debt: Consumer complaints cited debt collectors who misrepresented the character, amount or status of debts owed, and in some cases demanded payments in amounts greater than those permitted by law. All such actions are prohibited by the FDCPA: debt collectors cannot lie about any aspect of a debt or about their legal authority to collect it.
- Failure to provide adequate written documentation: The FDCPA requires that debt collectors send debtors written documents outlining the specifics of a debt and detailing the consumer’s rights regarding the debt and its collection. According to consumer complaints, though, many debt collectors are not adhering to these requirements.
Changes to Enforcement and Consumer Protection
Thanks to the implementation of the Consumer Protection Act in 2010, a new consumer rights bureau (the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) will have authority to create and enforce (with help from the FTC) rules governing how debt collectors must operate. In future years, reports about the status of the FDCPA will be developed and issued by the new consumer protection bureau.
How to Take Action against Dishonest Debt Collectors
So what can you do if you’re plagued by debt collectors who don’t play by the rules? Take the following steps.
- Learn your rights: Check out a summary of the rules debt collectors must follow so you know when your rights have been violated.
- File a complaint: Visit the FTC’s complaint page to file a complaint electronically.
- Get legal help: If a debt collector is harassing you during or after a bankruptcy filing (especially for a debt that was discharged in bankruptcy), you may want to enlist a lawyer to help.