Fair Debt Collection Practices Act: focus on consumers’ rights

Debt collection.

Those two words strung together can elicit myriad reactions and feelings from consumers across the country, including in Pennsylvania, who are on the receiving end of a third party’s effort to collect on money allegedly owed.

Let’s be frank. Being pursued by a debt collector is about as much fun as having a root canal. Moreover, and on top of the frustration, a very real dose of fear can attach when the phone starts ringing or a co-worker tells you that a collection company called the office. Humiliation and flat-out anger can accompany that fear.

Consumers absolutely need to know -- and should derive strong comfort from knowing -- that debt collectors cannot cavalierly pursue them, simply calling at all hours of the day, using demeaning language and threatening legal action.

There are laws in place to thwart such behavior, accompanied by legal remedies for bad-faith actors in the collection industry who refuse to play fairly.

A bedrock set of rules and standards aimed at protecting consumers is set forth in the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which is enforced by the United States Federal Trade Commission.

The FDCPA is a good primer for any harassed consumer to peruse, especially for its coverage of restrictions that curtail over-the-top collection behaviors. A basic litmus test: If it feels unlawful, it probably is illegal.

The FDCPA contemplates involvement of a consumer protection attorney in matters where a consumer is experiencing conflict with a debt collector. The legislation notes, for example, that a collector can contact only a consumer’s attorney following that lawyer’s formal involvement in a matter. An attorney can also sue a collector in state or federal court on a client’s behalf.

We will take a closer look at the assistance that a seasoned consumer protection attorney can provide a harassed consumer in our next blog post.

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