Consumers in Maryland and around the country are protected against abusive debt collectors by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in 1977. The FDCPA allows companies to contact consumers to seek payment for outstanding debts, but it prohibits harassment, misrepresentation and other tactics that could be used to mislead or bully individuals with unpaid bills. The consumer protection law also allows individuals to recover statutory damages in lawsuits against debt collectors.
Harassment and misrepresentation
The FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from calling individuals about unpaid debts before 8:00 a.m. and after 9:00 p.m. Debt collectors can use social media platforms to contact individuals privately, but they cannot make public posts about money owed. Debt collectors are also prohibited from engaging in abusive behavior like making repeated phone calls or informing an individual’s relatives or work colleagues about their financial situation. Debt collectors must inform individuals about the money they are attempting to recover, but they cannot mislead them or threaten them with arrest.
Stopping debt collector harassment
The FMCPA provides consumers with two ways to stop creditor harassment. Individuals who owe money can put an end to harassment by hiring an attorney because the law does not permit debt collectors to contact individuals who have retained counsel. The second way to stop debt collector harassment is to request in writing that all contact cease. When individuals file Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 personal bankruptcies, bankruptcy courts issue automatic stays that require all creditors to cease their collection efforts. Automatic stays also stop foreclosures, wage garnishments and debt-related lawsuits.
The passage of the FMCPA established rules of behavior for debt collectors, and it also provided consumers with legal recourse in situations where these rules are broken. The law establishes statutory damages of $1,000 for debt collector violations, which means consumers can recover money even when FMCPA violations do not cause them injury, loss or damage. Consumers who file FMCPA lawsuits can also recover actual damages and legal costs.