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Debt Collector Calling Family Members? Know Your Rights.

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In a Nutshell

Debt collection agencies can contact family members or your place of work, but they have to be careful about what they ask about. They’re really only supposed to call third parties if they can’t reach you or don’t have your contact information. Knowing your rights is helpful and can make things less stressful for you and your family. This article will cover what rights you have when it comes to debt collectors calling you, your family members, and other third parties.

Written by Attorney Eric Hansen
Updated December 11, 2021

If you have a delinquent debt that is in collections, you’ll want to resolve this with as little contact with the debt collection agency as needed. But that doesn’t mean you want them calling your family members, friends, or co-workers. Is that even legal?

The short answer is, yes, debt collectors can call third parties like relatives or friends. But the law limits what they can say. They’re really only supposed to call third parties if they can’t reach you or don’t have your contact information. This article will cover what rights you have when it comes to debt collectors calling you, your family members, and other third parties. Knowing your rights is helpful and can make things less stressful for you and your family.

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is a federal law that provides protections for debtors. It was enacted to help stop debt collection agencies from using predatory and unfair practices. It outlines what bill collectors can and can’t do when they are attempting to collect an outstanding debt. Credit cards, medical debts, student loans, and other consumer debts are covered by the FDCPA. Business debts and non-consumer debts are not covered by the FDCPA. This law doesn’t apply to original creditors.

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When Can Debt Collectors Contact Family Members?

Debt collection agencies can contact family members or your place of work, but they have to be careful about what they ask about. Debt collectors may contact third parties like a cosigner to get your home address, phone number, or place of employment. Asking family members about your whereabouts and basic contact information is perfectly legal. But debt collectors cannot ask your friends or family members about other subjects. In fact, bill collectors can’t even mention your debt or how much you owe. They usually say they need to discuss a personal financial matter and that they’re trying to get a hold of you but can’t seem to reach you.

What Debt Collection Agencies Are Legally Permitted To Do

Though the FDCPA regulates debt collection agencies, there are still many things they are legally allowed to do. For example, they can seek payment on an expired debt or take legal action and sue debtors to try to collect payment. If they get a judgment against you in court, they can garnish your wages or bank account. They can contact you during reasonable business hours and send you letters, emails, and notifications about your debt with the aim of collecting as much of that debt as they can.

Many people who have debts have dodged a phone call from their lenders or are actively screening phone calls to make sure the caller isn’t from a collections agency. If you’ve done that, you’re not alone. But it’s best not to make a habit of dodging collection calls or not following up on collections activity on your debts. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. It usually gets worse and can come back to bite you in the end. There are negative consequences for ignoring collection calls. For example, your credit score may take a hit.

The FDCPA and other state and federal laws do provide protections to consumer debtors. These laws limit what debt collection agencies can do. They can’t show up at your workplace, arrest you, or harass you. Also, debt collectors can only contact a specific family member, friend, or neighbor once unless that person asks the debt collector to call back or if the debt collector reasonably believes it might learn new information about the whereabouts of the debtor. 

Debt collection agencies can’t demand or request payment from third parties on behalf of the debtor. They also cannot berate, harass, threaten, or abuse family members or other third parties. You don’t have to take harassment from a bill collector and neither do others on your behalf. Debt collectors must identify themselves when they contact you and provide further information when asked. The FDCPA also prevents debt collectors from leaving messages with third parties. They can’t indicate that you have a debt, what you owe, or who you owe it to. Finally, they can’t ask about your bank accounts.

How To Stop Collectors From Contacting Family Members

The simplest way to stop debt collectors from contacting your family members is to pay off the debt. Though this may be easier said than done, start by assessing your financial situation and goals. Then, think realistically about how you can pay down your debts. 

If you can’t pay the debt in full, there may be other solutions. You may be able to set up a payment plan with a creditor or a debt collection agency. But if you do, be sure that you will be able to stick to the payment plan. If you don’t, you could end up in a worse situation than before. Also, be aware that making a payment agreement can restart the statute of limitations. This means the debt collection agency will have more time to collect on that debt than before. Also, a broken payment plan may cause the debt collector to become more aggressive and escalate their collection efforts.

Contact an attorney for legal advice if you think that a debt collection agency has violated the FDCPA. Whether a debt collector is calling you, a family member, neighbor, or friend, it makes no difference. If they are harassing people, abusing people, or acting inappropriately by informing others about the details of your consumer debts or not properly identifying themselves, they may be violating the FDCPA. A consumer and debtors’ rights attorney will be able to assist you with potential claims.

Sending a Cease-and-Desist Letter

Debt collectors are persistent. Sending a debt verification letter or a simple cease-and-desist letter can stop debt collectors from contacting you. There are many templates available online including those from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The CFPB site also has FAQs and resources on personal finance, debt relief, and how to stop debt collection calls. Finally, your local legal aid organization may be able to provide form letters that you can modify as needed.

Where To Report FDCPA Violations

Remember, you have rights and you should use them when necessary. Take action if debt collection agencies are harassing you or your family members or neighbors about your debts. It’s a good idea to keep track of all communication you have with debt collectors and record any questionable behavior. You can also request validation of the debt to make sure it is a legitimate debt and send a cease-and-desist letter to get a collector to stop contacting you. Remember that you can also dispute inaccurate debts with the debt collector, the original creditor, and the credit reporting bureaus.

If you think a debt collector has violated the FDCPA, contact the Federal Trade Commission, your state’s attorney general, and the Better Business Bureau. Filing a complaint can help prevent future inappropriate or unlawful acts. Additionally, you may want to contact an attorney for a consultation. A debtor’s rights or consumer protection attorney may be able to stop the collection activity or negotiate a debt settlement. They might even be able to make a claim against the debt collection agency for FDCPA and other consumer protection violations and get some monetary damages for you from the debt collection agency.

Let’s Summarize...

While it might be frustrating or embarrassing to have a debt collector call your family or friends, it is legal. But the FDCPA limits what collectors can say to third parties and how frequently they can contact them. Also, you can take steps to limit this contact by sending a cease-and-desist or debt verification letter. If you have an attorney, debt collectors should contact them instead of you.

Debt collectors are not allowed to harass you or your friends and family. You can and should report violations of the FDCPA to the proper authorities. Stay calm, know your rights, and use the tools available to you to make collections activity a lot less stressful for you and your family. 

Written By:

Attorney Eric Hansen

Eric D. Hansen is an experienced Minnesota attorney within a number of varying and nuanced practice areas. He has operated his own solo practice as well as worked at small suburban boutique firms and large diversified downtown law firms. Eric has a wealth of experience in busines... read more about Attorney Eric Hansen

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