The Third Right: Privacy of your Personal Information
The third right you have against bad debt collectors is privacy. Debt collectors are not allowed to use your personal information however they please. Simply put, they must keep your financial information a secret between you and them. They are only allowed to communicate with third parties in the following limited circumstances: to report to credit bureaus, to verify your location, and to comply with a court order. Even in those situations, they cannot say anything false and when verifying information, they cannot say anything about your debt. Here are some typical violations.
Telling Family About Your Debt – Debt Collectors cannot tell your family that you owe a debt, that you are in financial trouble, that they are collecting from you, or anything else that may communicate to anyone but you that you owe somebody money. Why? Because they know that spreading your financial bad news is embarrassing, and they want to use that embarrassment to pressure you into paying. This is one of the biggest violations I see by collection agencies in Alabama, and if it has happened to you, you need to take action. Now, there is one small exception to this rule: debt collectors are allowed to to talk to your spouse. This includes same-sex spouses if your state allows it, but it does NOT include boyfriends, girlfriends, baby-mamas, your parents (unless you’re a child, in which case they shouldn’t be calling you anyway), your brothers and sisters, or your children.
Leaving Collection Voicemails on the Family Phone – Because they aren’t allowed to communicate your personal information to anyone other than you, if they leave a message on a telephone that people other than you listen to, then they are breaking the law. Because any communication by a debt collector must also tell you who they are, any voicemail that the collector doesn’t affirmatively know to be heard only by you is probably illegal. Voicemails are probably my favorite type of FDCPA case because the bad collectors do you the favor of leaving the evidence right where you can get it. So if you are wondering, let me to tell you now: SAVE ALL YOUR VOICEMAILS FROM COLLECTORS. They could be worth money!!! Also save texts, emails, and letters.
Calling you at work – Debt collectors can only call you at work if your employer allows you to take personal phone calls on the job. I don’t know of a single employer who allows their employees to take personal phone calls while they’re working, so practically, the first time you get a phone call while you’re at work, you should tell the collection agency “I am not allowed to take personal calls at work. I work from 8 to 5. Bye.” If you tell a collector this ONCE, and they call you again while you’re at work, they’re breaking the law, and you need to call me. This rule applies even if they call your cell phone while you’re at work.
Telling your Employer or co-workers about your debt – If a collection agency calls your job and tells someone there that you owe money, they are breaking the law. In addition to the rule against calling you on the job, they can’t disclose your personal financial information to anyone but you – including your boss. Tiny exception: if they don’t know where you work, a debt collector can call your place of work ONCE to verify that you work there. During that phone call, they cannot say who they are or why they’re calling – they can only say “I just need to verify that Billy Smith is employed there.” If they say anything else, then they’re breaking the law.
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