You owe money to a debt collection agency or debt collector; you need to know what they can and cannot do in order to collect the money which they are trying to collect.   You have an obligation to pay what you owe, and the debt collectors have an obligation to follow the law and not harass you at home or at work when they are trying to collect money from you.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) applies to those who collect debts owed to creditors for personal, family and household debts. These include car loans, mortgages, charge accounts and money owed for medical bills. A debt collector is someone hired to collect money you owe, or entity which has purchased your alleged debt from the original creditor after it has gone into default.

Within five days after a debt collector first contacts you, the collector must send you a notice that tells you the name of the creditor, how much you owe, and what action to take if you believe you don’t owe the money.

If you believe you don’t owe the money, or if you believe the amount being asserted as due is overstated or is otherwise incorrect, you should send a letter to the debt collector disputing the debt and requesting information which proves that the debt is owed (this is normally called requesting validation or verification).  Once you have requested validation, the debt collector is not supposed to engage in further collection activities until it provides the validation information.   The FDCPA also prevents debt collectors from engaging in other activities such as:

Contacting you at unreasonable times; for example, before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you agree;

Contacting you at work if you tell the debt collector your employer disapproves;

Contacting you after you write a letter telling them to stop; and

Contacting friends, neighbors, or relatives in an effort to collect a debt from you.

When a debt collector calls you or leaves a message on your voicemail, it has to identify the name of the agency he or she represents, and make it clear that he or she is a debt collector attempting to collect a debt.   In addition, a debt collector is prohibited from making false and deceptive statements in an attempt to collect a debt and from using profane or abusive language during the course of any conversation which you may have with him or her.

The FDCPA is a consumer protection law which can be extremely helpful to those who are struggling with the bills.  If a debt collector violates any of the provisions of the FDCPA it can owe up to $1,000.00 for what is known as statutory damages and for actual damages when applicable.  It is also what is known as a fee shifting statute which means that if a debt collector violates the FDCPA when trying to collect a debt it has to pay your reasonable attorney’s fees in addition to your damages.  If you think you are being harassed or abused by debt collectors about one or more of your debts, you should contact an attorney who specializes in handling cases on behalf of consumers.

Bob Healey is a licensed attorney and principal with Healey Law, LLC, a full-service St. Louis law firm, specializing in handling cases for accident and injury victims, injured workers, and consumers who have been abused or mistreated by debt collectors, banks, mortgage companies and credit reporting agencies. With 4 convenient locations in Chesterfield, Downtown St. Louis, North County (Bridgeton near DePaul Hospital) and South County (on Tesson Ferry across from St. Anthony’s Hospital) the attorneys at Healey Law, LLC have over 25 years of experience representing clients in the State and Federal Courts in both Missouri and Illinois.  For more information visit: