Debt collectors can call you at work unless and until you tell them to stop calling. Under federal law, debt collectors and creditors are prohibited from contacting borrowers at work once they have reason to know that a borrower's employer doesn't permit these kinds of calls. The law does allow for other collection tactics, so it is important to know your rights concerning debt collection communications.
Can Debt Collectors Call You at Work?
Yes, but not if you’ve told them to stop.
The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) limits how and when debt collectors can contact you. Debt collectors are legally allowed to call you at work, but if you tell them to stop calling you at work, they must comply.
If you receive a debt collection phone call while you’re at work, tell the debt collector that you aren’t allowed to receive personal calls at work and ask them not to contact you there in the future. Because it can be hard to prove you told them not to call, it’s also a good idea to follow up with a cease and desist letter. Keep a copy of the letter for your records.
If the debt collector keeps calling or violates the law in any other way, you have the right to sue them. If you can prove the debt collector broke the law, you may be able to recover actual damages, statutory damages up to $1,000, attorney fees, and any other court costs.
Can the Original Creditor Call You at Work?
Yes, but again, you can ask them not to call you at work.
It’s important to know, though, that the laws are different for original creditors than for third-party debt collectors.
The original creditor is the entity that initially lent you money or extended credit. In other words, the original creditor is who you originally owed the money to, such as a bank or a credit card company. In the case of medical bills, this may be a hospital, doctor’s office, or specialist’s office.
Initially, you and the original creditor were the only two parties to the debt. If the original creditor turns the debt over to someone else to collect, that collector is a “third party” debt collector. Debt collectors often work on behalf of a debt collection agency to collect debts that have been written off by the original creditor after they fail to collect the unpaid debt over a period of time.
Third-party debt collectors are forbidden under the FDCPA from calling you at your place of employment after you tell them not to. Original creditors are not typically subject to the FDCPA. That doesn’t mean original creditors can do whatever they want. You can (and should!) ask them not to call you at work if that’s a problem for you. Even original creditors are barred from harassment under the Federal Trade Commission Act.
If you feel like an original creditor is harassing you at work, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This is the federal agency that helps protect consumers from abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices. Though you can file an FTC complaint against an original creditor, you can’t sue them directly for violating the FTC Act.
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Illegal Debt Collection Tactics: Know Your Rights
Debt collectors are notorious for their persistence. They’ll use many tactics to try to get you to pay an unpaid debt. The FDCPA permits some of these strategies and prohibits others. It’s important to know which are lawful and which aren’t so you can protect your rights.
Under the FDCPA, third-party debt collectors aren’t allowed to:
Publicize your debt. This means that a collector can’t come to your office, since it would provide notice of your debt to your coworkers.
Call you at certain times. They generally aren’t permitted to call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. local time.
Contact you after you’ve requested that they no longer contact you. You can make this request by phone or with a written notice. While this should stop the contact, it won’t erase your debt.
Harass you.Harassment can include repeatedly making calls, making any information about your debt public, using offensive language, and making violent threats.
Try to collect debt that you don’t owe. Since debts are frequently bought and sold, debt collectors may have the wrong information about who owes the debt or how much you owe.
Place you under arrest or threaten to do so. That said, if the collector files a lawsuit against you, the court could order you to appear. If you don’t show up for these court-mandated appearances, the court could issue an arrest warrant.
If a debt collector tries any of these tactics, you can report them to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau(CFPB) and the FTC for violating federal debt collection laws. Your state attorney general’s office may also be helpful if the collection agency has violated state laws as well. Finally, you can also reach out to an attorney for legal advice. A lawyer can help you understand your rights and address the issue in court, if needed. Many attorneys offer free consultations.
What Can Debt Collectors Do?
Debt collectors are prohibited from many collection practices, but there’s a lot they can legally do.
Debt collectors can contact you in several ways. They can’t make unfounded threats or give you false information, but they can call you every day, send you letters, contact you on social media, and raise the prospect of a lawsuit if they have the legal right to sue you and plan to do so.
Debt collectors may try to collect on an expired debt. Debts from credit cards, medical bills, utility bills, and other consumer debts have a statute of limitations. This gives creditors and debt collectors a time limit to sue you to collect the debt. If the time limit has passed, you can’t be sued for the debt, but debt collectors can still contact you to try to collect the debt.
Debt collectors can sue you to collect a debt.If a debt collector brings legal action against you, it’s important to file a response to the lawsuit and show up to any hearings. This allows you to present any defenses you may have and make the debt collector prove that you owe the debt. A debt collector can sue you even if the statute of limitations has expired. In this case, it’s your job to respond to the lawsuit and tell the court that the time limit has passed. If you lose the lawsuit, the creditor may get a court order for wage garnishment or a bank levy.
Debt collectors can sell your debt. If a collector fails to collect on part or all of your debt, they may choose to sell it to a debt buyer. This is why if a debt collector contacts you, you should ask for a debt validation letter to verify the debt before you do anything else.
Debt collectors can report unpaid debt to the credit bureaus. This will show up on your credit report and hurt your credit score. Before contacting a credit reporting agency, the debt collector must contact you about the debt first.
What Can You Do if You Can’t Pay the Debt?
Asking a debt collector to stop calling you at work or at home can help reduce your stress about unpaid debts you know you owe, but it won’t make the debt go away. Keep that in mind if and when you ask a debt collector to stop calling you. Also, a debt collector who can’t contact you might see filing a lawsuit as their only option.
The good news is that you have several debt relief options to explore to help deal with the debt and make the debt collectors go away for good. Having a free consultation with a nonprofit credit counselor is a great place to start. Credit counselors can look at your debt, budget, and goals to help you choose the right form of debt relief. You can also work to negotiate a debt settlement directly with the collection agency.
Finally, if you’re overwhelmed with debt and don’t see a path forward, you may want to consider filing bankruptcy. Bankruptcy has its pros and cons, so do your homework. If you decide bankruptcy is the right choice for you, once you file your case with the court, you’ll get instant relief from collection calls and other collection activities.