If you are being bothered by debt collectors, there is one very important thing you must know: YOU HAVE RIGHTS. If yours have been violated, call the law office of Judson E. Crump at 251.272.9148.
What sort of rights, specifically? Basically, you have four rights when dealing with debt collectors: 1) to be treated with dignity, 2) to be spoken to honestly, 3) to have your personal business kept private, and 4) to be informed about the nature of their claims against you. Now, the text of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (15 U.S.C. Sec. 1692) is much longer than that. Why? Because debt collectors have, over the years, tried hundreds of tricks to try and weasel out of their basic obligations and the law has evolved to try and keep up with them. As a general rule, if you think that a debt collector may be doing something illegal, they probably are. But people need to know as much about their rights as possible. As an attorney, one of my duties is to use my own knowledge and position to educate the public and help you understand your rights. What can debt collectors do? What can’t they do? And more importantly, what can you do about it?
So here is my definitive Guide to the Alabama Citizen’s Rights Against Bad Debt Collectors. It is a work in progress, and I will update it as needed to keep apace with new developments in the law. I invite my fellow attorneys to email me if they have suggestions or questions.
Because I practice in Alabama, where state law provides no real protections against bad debt collectors, this guide will focus on the federal laws that protect every American citizen and resident alien. Your state may have more protection, and if you aren’t sure, I always suggest that you call a good consumer protection attorney and find out. One thing to remember is that these rules do not apply to original lenders – only to people collecting on their behalf – collection agencies, law firms, attorneys, debt buyers, etc.
The Alabama Citizen’s Guide to Fair Debt Collection
Your First Right: Dignity
Just because you owe someone money does not make you a slave, a bad person, a second-class citizen, a sinner, or a whipping boy. Certainly, legitimate creditors have the right to make contact with you and to try to convince you to pay them. But that’s about it. The first protection that the law gives people in debt is the right to be accorded a basic degree of dignity: you cannot be abused, harassed, insulted, or offended. Specifically, they cannot:
– Use profanity. Period. If they are using curse words – any curse words – they’re crossing the line.
– Insult you. They cannot call you bad names or try to shame your sense of humanity. Examples: telling you that you’re a bad husband or wife, a bad example to your children, a moron, or a deadbeat.
– Make racial or religious comments. If they say that you’re not a Christian, or that “its typical” of “people like you” to not pay them, they’re breaking the law. They cannot say that God is going to be angry.
– Call too often – this requirement is a bit hazy, but there is a point where even legitimate collection calls cease to be attempts to communicate and become harassment. If they’re calling 10 times a day for a week, they’re probably breaking the law.
– Call you too early or too late. Specifically, they cannot call you before 9:00 AM or after 8:00 PM. If you have told them that you have young children who must be in bed at 7 pm, and they keep making the home phone ring after the kids are in bed, they’re crossing the line.
– Call you at any time or place that they know to be inconvenient. For instance, if you’ve told them that you are not allowed to take personal calls at work, and they do it again, they’re breaking the law.
– Call you after you have notified them in writing that you refuse to pay them.
– Call you after they know that you are represented by an attorney with respect to their debt.
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