It is never a pleasant feeling when you know that you owe someone money, especially if the sum is a large one and has been outstanding for a long time. It might feel like an unusual or shameful thing, but millions of people are in similar situations and there is no reason for you to stop looking out for your best interests. Debt collectors will try to make you doubt yourself, but the Telephone Consumer Protection Act can help you.Being harassed by a debt collector is a deeply unpleasant experience, but if a debt collection agency does cross the line and engage in illegal or restricted behavior when they try to recover funds from you, you are protected. Not only are there established pathways for dealing with debt collectors on your own, but there are also experienced legal professionals out there to help. Being in debt and dealing with debt collectors doesn't have to be the end of the world.
How Do I Know if I'm Being Harassed?
There are two main areas of activity that debt collectors can engage in which will result in them being prosecuted and which you need to be aware of. The first is misrepresentation and the second is harassment. If you realize that a debt collector is engaging in either of these things while trying to collect money from you, you should immediately make contact with a lawyer in order to safeguard your interests and protect yourself from dodgy or criminal activity.Misrepresentation is when a debt collector gives you false information either about themselves or about the money you owe and which they are trying to collect from you. This could be someone refusing to tell you their name or refusing to give the name of the company they work for, or it could be a person falsely claiming to be a legal professional of some kind, or it could be a false threat towards you and your family.Harassment is harder to define but sometimes easier to spot, since it often comes down to whether or not you feel like the debt collector is listening to what you tell them and respecting the boundaries you are trying to establish. For example, if a debt collector uses threats of violence, annoying and repetitive phone calls, or tries to contact you at work or at unusual hours. If these things happen to you, there's a good chance you're being harassed.
What Does the Telephone Consumer Protection Act Do for Me?
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act, or TCPA, is a law passed in 1991 that places a set of restrictions on the kinds of communication that corporations can engage in with you over the telephone. At the time, it was only really phone calls that were covered by the legislation, but since the rise of communication technologies in the years since 1991, marketers and salespeople, and debt collectors have found ways around the law through other methods of communication.Fortunately, the law was updated in 2015 to include restrictions on a variety of automated forms of communication such as auto-dials, pre-recorded messages, automated text messages, and artificial voice messages. This makes it much more difficult and time-consuming for debt collectors to attempt harassment over the phone. Previously, a debt collector might have set up automated text and voice messages to harass you, whereas now this is restricted and they have to pick up the phone themselves.There can be large compensations for those who are on the receiving end of harassment that violates the TCPA, so it's important to keep records of calls, summarising the content and frequency of the communication. Victims of harassment can receive up to $500 for every call they receive that violates the TCPA, and up to three times that amount if it can be demonstrated that the debt collector violated the TCPA willingly and in the knowledge of their offense.
How Can I Stop a Debt Collector From Contacting Me?
One way to stop a debt collection agency from contacting or harassing you is to get in touch with a lawyer about your situation and have them represent you. If you inform the debt collection agency that you are being represented by an attorney, then they must from that point onwards correspond with your attorney and not with you. This way, you can let someone who is skilled and experienced deal with the agency on your behalf.Alternatively, if you send a letter to the debt collection agency and tell them you want them to stop calling or contacting you, the debt collection agency is required to stop. They will send you one last communication to say that they have received your letter or to inform you of their plans to move to legal action like filing a lawsuit. If you haven't already done so by this point, then this would be a good moment to contact a lawyer.
What if I Don't Think I Owe the Debt They Claim I Owe?
Plenty of people accumulate debt without necessarily realizing at the time how extensive those debts are, and financial situations can easily get complicated. If you are contacted by a debt collector over money that they are demanding from you, and you think they are either mistaken or deceitful, you should definitely not go ahead with payments until you have verified their claims. Their interest is in getting money from you, not making sure you are well represented or fully informed.The first thing to do is to write to the debt collection agency and file a dispute letter with them, which allows you to demand confirmation of the debt that you owe and more information about where it came from. Once the company receives this, they are required to stop trying to collect money from you until they have sent you the documentation you are requesting. This gives you some breathing space to figure out whether you owe them anything.
Beware Dealing Informally With Debt Collectors
Another option for trying to resolve your debt crisis would be to deal directly and informally with the debt collector, without legal representation, but there are dangers to this. It is absolutely in a debt collector's best interests to keep you paying money to them for as long as possible, and they will do their best to offer enticing plans or deals to make this happen.
While it might seem like an attractive option, to pay small regular amounts over a long period of time, the chances are that you are getting a bad deal, and would be better off making a legal challenge or negotiating a single payment. If you decide to deal with the debt collection agency on your own, it's important to make sure you always consider why the agency is offering what they offer and whether your interests are being considered.
Whether you have been in debt before, have been in debt for some time, or think you are about to fall into debt and want to learn more, it's always worth getting in touch with an experienced and skilled attorney who can guide you through the process. An attorney will know when a collection agency is trying to scam you or harass you and can advise on what steps to take. Contact Thomas McKnight Law today in Santa Ana, California to find out more!