Debt collection practices: Is third party communication lawful?

Many people are often surprised as the tactics debt collection agencies utilize to collect on a consumer's delinquent debt.

One consumer learns that a third party collection agency has contacted his employer about a past due debt. Another consumer finds out that a collection agency has reached out to her sister to learn about her residence. Unfortunately, these examples-and many others-are all too common.

But are they actually legal? The answer often depends on the individual situation.

Lawful third-party communication

In general terms, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, also known as the FDCPA, bars debt collectors from contacting family or any other third party about another person's past due debt. However, there are exceptions to this rule. The FDCPA does outline instances where third party communication is legal and the actions agencies are lawfully allowed to pursue.

If, for instance, the consumer has retained an attorney, the FDCPA stipulates that the debt collection agency can directly contact that consumer's lawyer. The Act also indicates that it is lawful to also reach out to the consumer's spouse and any other parties who have co-signed on the loan in question.

However, when it comes to other types of individuals, the law regarding third party communication is a bit more stringent. Collection agencies can reach out to non-relatives or legal professionals associated with the consumer, but only if the agency identifies who they are to the individuals they contact and that they are attempting to determine the whereabouts of another. At no time is the agency allowed to reveal to the third party that an individual owes a debt.

Other prohibited actions are as follows:

Prohibited actions

Subsequent contacts: The FDCPA stipulates that debt collectors can only contact a third party once. Any subsequent contact with the same party is against the law.
Harassment: Debt collection agencies are also barred from engaging in conduct that is construed as harassment or abusive. Threats or even the use of obscene language to either a consumer or a third party contact is prohibited under the FDCPA.
Lying: Debt collectors also cannot lie to consumers in an attempt to collect on debt. They cannot claim to be affiliated with a law enforcement agency, specific credit bureau or an attorney to persuade the consumer to make a payment. They also cannot threaten consumers with prison time or property seizure for a failure to pay.

Reaching out to an advocate

The above information is a basic overview of the actions collection agencies can and cannot pursue when it comes to collecting debt. If you have specific questions about your debt or whether a collection agency has violated your rights as a consumer, contacting a debt collection defense attorney is advised. Your lawyer can talk with you about the law as it relates to your specific circumstance.