The phone call initially leaves you stunned, until you realize the money you owe a creditor has moved into a serious collection stage. Someone claimed he or she represented a law enforcement agency charged with collecting the debt you owe. What legal rights do you have under federal law?
Legal Protection Granted by the FDCPA
Before September 20, 1977, American consumers were at the legal mercy of unscrupulous third party debt collectors that used every tactic imagined to collect debts for original creditors. One of the nastiest maneuvers used by third-party debt collectors involved calling or writing consumers to threatened them with law enforcement action.
Fortunately, the United States Congress passed the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) in 1977. As one of the most effective consumer protection laws, the FDCPA prohibits third party debt collectors from implementing unfair, abusive, and deceptive debt collection actions. Third party debt collectors must also provide consumers with accurate information about a debt, as well as the individual or agency responsible for collecting a debt.
Impersonating Law Enforcement is Considered Deceptive
Since 1977, several court decisions have confirmed the legal fact that impersonating law enforcement to collect a debt is considered “deceptive.” Third party debt collectors can make a law enforcement claim by sending a letter. However, a letter leaves a paper trail offering you proof of the deception. Savvy third-party debt collectors typically call consumers to avoid leaving physical proof of a false law enforcement claim. In either case, you must contact a licensed consumer protection attorney to activate the legal rights mandated by the FDCPA.
You Might Be Entitled to Damages
As the federal agency responsible to creating and enforcing the regulations that put legal teeth into the FDCPA, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) established a process for adjudicating false law enforcement claims made by third party debt collectors. Consumers have the right to sue third party debt collectors for violating one or more provisions of the FDCPA. Lawsuits that end favorably for consumers typically cost third party debt collectors money in the form of statutory and actual damages. The FTC has placed a cap of $1,000 for statutory damages. However, there is not a cap on actual damages.
Actual damages include physical pain, which is often caused by the acute stress and anxiety generated from receiving deceptive law enforcement claims. You also might be eligible for actual damages caused emotional stress. The most common actual damages awarded in FDCPA cases concern lost wages from a paycheck garnishment.
Remember the FDCPA only covers third party debt collectors. The original creditor has the legal right to collect the debt even after a court penalizes a third party debt collector for illegal behavior. Regardless of the origin of a debt collection action, you should contact a licensed consumer protection attorney to ensure you enjoy all the legal protections granted by the FDCPA.