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Debt Collection Harassment Help
What is Fair Debt Collection?
The Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act, or the FCCPA, is a Florida statute modeled after the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, or the FDCPA. The FCCPA was enacted to give even greater protection for the citizens of the State of Florida than the federal act.
The FDCPA/FCCPA prohibits anyone collecting a consumer debt from doing the following:
- • Acting like a government official (such as the police) when they are not.
- • Threaten to lie to others about the status of a disputed debt.
- • Talk to your employer or boss (with few exceptions).
- • Telling most other third-parties any information affecting your reputation (with few exceptions).
- • Discussing a debt known to be disputed without also disclosing the disputed nature of that debt.
- • Abusing, harassing, or "spamming" you or your family.
- • Using profanity, obscenity, vulgarity, or willfully abusive language in communicating with you or your family.
- • Claiming, attempting to claim, or threatening to enforce a debt that they know does not exist against you or that they know can no longer be acted upon (time-barred/statute of limitations debt, for example).
- • Acting like they are an attorney when they are not an attorney, or crafting communications attempting to give the appearance of official legal or court documents when they are not.
- • Using any documentation or stationery that would indicate an attorney was involved in its preparation when no attorney was actually involved.
- • Oral communications that purport to be coming from an attorney when no attorney is actually involved.
- • Advertising or threatening to advertise the sale of your debt (with few exceptions).
- • Publishing, posting, threatening to publish, threatening to post, causing to publish, or causing to post, anyone's name in connection with a debtor list (also called a "deadbeat list"), usually to shame a debtor into paying.
- • Refusing to identify themselves or their employer when such is requested.
- • Sending mail with anything on the envelope that would indicate such communication is an attempt to collect a debt, including the use of postcards or addressing communications to, for example, "Deadbeat John Doe."
- • Calls before 8 A.M. or after 9 P.M. in your time zone, unless you consent to such calls.
- • Communicating with you if they know you are represented by an attorney (with very few exceptions).
- • Calling you collect or sending telegrams or other forms of communication whereby you can be charged for their receipt.
- • And most other threats. If they ever say "if you don't pay this debt, I will do ____" odds are it's not allowed.
If a debt collector or debt buyer violates the FDCPA/FCCPA, or if the original creditor violates the FCCPA, you may be entitled to money damages. The statutory damages amount is $1,000. You may also be eligible for punitive damages, depending on the level of egregiousness of the defendant's conduct.
The FDCPA covers personal, family, and household consumer debt, including your credit card bills, car bills, medical bills, and even your home mortgage. It does not cover any debt acquired in the course of running a business.
Protection from Harassing Phone Calls
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act, or TCPA, is a federal statute designed to protect consumers from the annoyances of automatic dialers, "robo-calls," unsolicited text messages, unsolicited fax messages, and calls made to a cell phone without consent.
If a person or business is found to violate the TCPA, the consumer is entitled to recover $500 -- $1,500 if the violations were intentional - or actual damages, for every call. Therefore, if a debt collector "robo-called" you 100 times and the court determined such calls were intentionally made, you could recover $150,000.
If you are receiving calls on your cell phone and you want them to stop, then explicitly revoking your consent given - even if none was ever given - is a strong option to consider. Write a letter to the offending entity and mail it certified mail, return receipt. This letter should contain language in a similar format to the following:
"My cell phone number is ___________. I do not consent to receive calls on my cell phone. I am demanding that the calls to my cell phone stop immediately. Additionally, by sending this letter I am not admitting that I gave prior consent to call my cell phone. Thank you."
The TCPA prohibits calls made before 8 A.M. and after 9 P.M. - if you are being called during the early morning or late evening hours, you may be entitled to money damages: $500 per violation, $1,500 per intentional violation.
The TCPA prohibits calls made to a residence using a "computerized" or pre-recorded voice. Sometimes, companies using auto-dialers will call multiple people simultaneously under the assumption that only one consumer will pick up the phone. When that person does, the auto-dialer will automatically hang up the phone for everyone else being called and then transfer the connection with the consumer who answered the phone to the sales representative or the debt collector. Sometimes, because this process is not instantaneous, and because people tend to hang up the phone after picking it up and hearing nothing, the auto-dialers may include a pre-recorded message saying something like "please stand by." This alone is sufficient to violate the TCPA. Because this is almost certainly intentional, a violation like this is almost always worth $1,500.
If you're being harassed by robo-calls or by overzealous debt collectors, even if you do not suspect them of using auto-dialers (they almost always are, even if it may be hard to detect), then a good foundation of evidence and documentation is gold for any eventual lawsuit or settlement negotiation. To get it started, I suggest that you do the following:
- • First, send a revocation of consent to be called letter, described above.
- • Answer every call you receive, if possible. You do not need to engage them in conversation. Simply picking up, listening for five seconds, then hanging up is sufficient.
- • Create a phone log of every call you receive. Open up Excel or a similar spreadsheet program on the computer (or create a spreadsheet-styled document with pen and paper) and record the following data for every call: the number calling, the time of the call, the duration of the call, whether any automated or pre-recorded voices are heard during the call, the identity of the caller (if known), and anything significant about the content of the call (e.g. were they abusive, cursing, calling you names, etc.).
- • Keep all phone bills that contain a log of calls received. This is an extra layer of evidentiary support for your call log. Many phone companies will send, with the monthly bill, an itemized list of every call received, including the number calling, and the time, date, and duration of the call. Combined with your log, if the data aligns in a substantially similar manner, it will serve to support the other information in your log that does not appear on the phone bill, such as the content of the call or the presence of an automated voice.
- • If you receive any voicemails, save them all. If you know how to upload them to a computer for easier access, do so. If you aren't a technically-inclined type of person, that's okay; consider asking a friend or informing an attorney, who will likely have a way to help you out.
- • Attempt to "Google" the phone numbers of calls you receive, especially if you receive the same phone number multiple times. Often, you aren't the only person these people are harassing, and there are websites where people will post the numbers they were called by and any identifying information they may have about those numbers. No need to reinvent the wheel; if someone else figured out the corporate address of the company calling you, let's use their work to our benefit. Also, if you are receiving calls from the same three digit prefix (e.g. 954-123-3493, 954-123-3749, 954-123-8384, 954-123-2334) - it may be a truncated phone line, and it's more evidence that although the numbers may be different, it's likely that it's still the same company calling you each time.
- • At the end of each day, try to take pictures or screenshots of your cell phone or caller ID's screen listing the phone numbers that called you. This is pretty good evidence to have, too.
If you do the above things, you're well on your way to being compensated at the expense of those corporations that decide it's better to break the law than to follow it.
Fair Credit Reporting
The Fair Credit Reporting Act, or FCRA, is a federal statute designed to protect consumers from unfair practices by credit bureaus, credit furnishers (people who make reports to the bureaus that contribute to your credit score), and similar entities. The FCRA is designed to give the consumer a sword with which they can cleave through the red tape and ensure that the numbers and objects on their credit reports are accurate and fairly represented. Possible errors found on a credit report include reporting a debt for an amount different than that which is actually owed, reporting debts that are not actually owed, or failing to remove a listed debt once it has been repaid.
The FCRA gives a consumer many rights, chief among which is the right to dispute an entry on their credit report that they believe to be invalid. Once an entry is disputed, the credit bureaus must note that the item is disputed (and thus cannot be calculated in your credit score) and it must launch an investigation as to the merit of your dispute. If they fail to do so, it may be a violation of the FCRA, for which you may be entitled to money damages. It also prohibits who can pull your credit report and when, and to whom such information can be disclosed.
Disputing Errors on Your Credit Report
Credit report problems can permeate many aspects of your business and personal life. A mistake on your credit report could cause you to be denied a credit card or a loan, or receive a worse interest rate on the same, it could affect your ability to purchase insurance, to rent or buy a home, or even to secure employment. In other words, significant actual damages are possible with some violations of the FCRA.
If you believe you have found an error on your credit report and you wish to dispute it, send a letter, certified mail, return receipt, to the three credit bureaus. In this letter, include your name, a reference to your credit report, the information you believe to be incorrect, and any explanatory information you wish to provide. It's also beneficial to provide contact information in this letter in case the credit bureaus have questions regarding your dispute. Mail your letters to the following addresses, as applicable:
Equifax Information Services, LLC
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374
TransUnion Consumer Solutions
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19022-2000
Experian Information Services, LLC - NCAC
701 Experian Parkway
Allen, Texas 75013
Additionally, it may be a good idea to send a letter of dispute to whichever credit furnisher entity placed the derogatory mark on your credit report in the first place. For example, if a credit card company states that you owe them $5,000 but you know you only owe them $50, you can send a dispute letter directly to the credit card company as well as to the credit bureaus themselves.
Once a dispute is received, they have thirty days to respond to your request for investigation. If they fail to do so within this time frame, they may have violated the FCRA and you may be entitled to money damages. It is important to note that liability does not necessary attach to the credit bureaus or to the credit furnishers by simply placing incorrect information on your credit report. Liability attaches when they receive a dispute letter and then fail to correct the error within thirty days. Therefore, sending these letters as soon as you recognize the problem is generally a good decision.