FDCPA Violations: A Summary of What Debt Collectors Cannot Do

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FDCPA Violations: A Summary of What Debt Collectors Cannot DoWhen you owe a debt, the creditor naturally has the right to collect on it. What they cannot do is use whatever measures they like to get you to pay them. On the contrary, they must operate within a lengthy set of rules that are laid out in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Get to know your rights with this summary of FDCPA violations. This information will not only help you spot debt collector violations, but will also inform how you deal with debts during the credit repair process.

FDCPA violations when trying to locate you

If a debt collector doesn’t know where you are, they are permitted to contact third parties to try and determine your location. They can then use this information to contact you about your debt. However, there are limitations to what a debt collector is permitted (and required) to say to a third party.

Debt collectors are committing FDCPA violations if they:

  • Fail to tell the third party who they are and the reason for the communication – not to collect a debt but to confirm or correct your location
  • Fail to tell the third party what company they work for, if asked
  • Tell the third party you owe a debt
  • Initiate more than one communication with the third party (unless (a) that third party asked to be contacted again or (b) the information they previously provided was incorrect and it’s believed they can now provide accurate location details)
  • Contact a third party via post card
  • Include any language or symbols on mailed communications that could suggest it has something to do with a debt owed
  • Contact third parties about your location after they have been notified that you have an attorney handling the issue (unless the attorney doesn’t respond to the debt collector within a “reasonable period of time”)

Violations when trying to collect on a debt

If you owe a debt, you should expect the original creditor or debt collector (that has the right to collect on said debt) to contact you about it. However, there are limitations to what they can do.


Debt collectors are in violation of FDCPA if they:

  • Call you before 8 am or after 9 pm (unless given permission)
  • Contact you after they have been notified that you have an attorney handling the issue (unless the attorney isn’t responding to them within a “reasonable period of time” or the attorney has given the debt collector permission to communicate with you directly)
  • Contact you at work after you have informed them that your employer does not allow such communications
  • Communicate with a third party about your debt (unless given permission)
  • Fails to cease communication with you after you have requested (in writing) that they stop contacting you (except to tell you they’re stopping collection activity or tell you that they plan to use a “specified remedy,” such as suing you)

Note, the FDCPA states that “For the purpose of this section, the term ‘consumer’ includes the consumer’s spouse, parent (if the consumer is a minor), guardian, executor, or administrator.” (Rather than use the term consumer in this summary, we have used “you” instead.) In other words, your spouse is not considered a third party (unless you live in a state where spousal permission is required).

Harassment or abuse

Debt collectors are committing FDCPA violations if they:

  • Threaten violence
  • Use profanities or obscene language
  • Publish your name in a list of consumers who they say won’t pay their debts (this, of course, does not apply to the reporting of your payment history to the credit bureaus)
  • Try to “coerce payment of the debt” by advertising the debt for sale
  • “Repeatedly or continuously” call you “to annoy, abuse, or harass”
  • Fail to identify themselves during phone calls

False or misleading representations

Debt collectors are in violation of FDCPA if they:

  • Falsely claim or imply that they are “vouched for, bonded by, or affiliated with the United States or any State, including the use of any badge, uniform, or facsimile thereof”
  • Misrepresent what you owe or the legal status of what you owe
  • Falsely claim or imply that
    • They are an attorney
    • If you don’t pay, you will be arrested or imprisoned, have your assets seized, or be the subject of wage garnishment
    • They will do something they cannot legally do or that they aren’t planning to do
    • If they sell the debt or transfer the debt, you’ll “lose any claim or defense to payment of the debt” or “become subject to any practice prohibited by this subchapter”
    • You committed a crime (used as a tactic to disgrace you)
  • Knowingly share incorrect information about your debt (to a credit bureau, for example) or fail to share correct information (your dispute of a debt, for example)
  • Use written communication that “simulates or is falsely represented to be a document authorized, issued, or approved by any court, official, or agency of the United States or any State, or which creates a false impression as to its source, authorization, or approval”
  • Using any sort of deception to learn your location or to try and collect a debt from you
  • Fail to include in the initial communication to you that they are “attempting to collect a debt and that any information obtained will be used for that purpose”
  • Fail to state in subsequent communications that it is from a debt collector
  • Falsely represent or imply that:
    • Your account has “been turned over to innocent purchasers for value”
    • “Documents are legal process”
    • “Document are not legal process forms” or that there’s nothing you need to do in response to receiving them
    • Operate or work for a credit bureau

Unfair practices

Debt collectors are committing FDCPA violations if they:

  • Collect more from you than you actually owe
  • Accept from you a check postdated by more than 5 days (unless you received written confirmation of “the debt collector’s intent to deposit such check or instrument not more than ten nor less than three business days prior to such deposit”)
  • Try and get you to write a postdated check “for the purpose of threatening or instituting criminal prosecution”
  • Depositing your postdated check early (or threatening to)
  • Getting you to accept a collect call (or telegram fee) by concealing what the communication is about
  • Using “nonjudicial action to effect dispossession or disablement of property” if:
    • The property wasn’t used as collateral
    • They actually have no plans to take such action
    • “The property is exempt by law from such dispossession or disablement”
  • Use a post card to contact you about a debt
  • Include on an envelope anything that suggests it is related to debt collection, including the business name in the return address (unless the business name in no way betrays that they are debt collectors)

Certain deceptive forms

Debt collectors are in violation of FDCPA if they send you forms suggesting that another entity is involved in the collection process when, in fact, they are not.

Violations when validating debt

It takes more than a debt collector simply saying that you owe them money for it to be legally binding. That’s where debt validation comes into play, which can prove an invaluable tool when you are trying to repair your credit. If the validity of a debt cannot be proven, then you are not liable for it and it must be removed from your credit reports. Fortunately, there are strict guidelines governing this process that debt collectors must follow.

Notice of debt

Debt collectors are committing FDCPA violations if they do not provide you with the following information – in writing – within 5 days of their initial communication with you about the debt:

  • How much you owe
  • To whom the debt is owed
  • Statement that they will assume the debt is valid unless you dispute it within 30 days
  • Statement that if the consumer disputes the debt within 30 days, the debt collector will provide verification of the debt (or a copy of a judgment against you)
  • Statement that, if requested within 30 days, they will let you know the name and address of the original creditor (assuming it is not the original creditor that is currently collecting on it)

Note, some or all of this information could be included in an initial written communication, in which case you should not expect to receive an additional notice within 5 days of the initial contact.

Disputed debts

Debt collectors are in violation of FDCPA if they:

  • Continue collection efforts before they have verified a disputed debt (or provided a copy of a judgment against you)
  • Continue collection efforts before letting you know the name and address of the original creditor (if you requested it)

Note, even if you do not dispute a debt, by law it is not considered an admission of liability.

Violations when dealing with multiple debts

Debt collectors are committing FDCPA violations if you owe them multiple debts and they:

  • Apply a payment you want credited to a non-disputed debt to one that you have disputed
  • Do not follow your instructions in how you want the payment applied (if applicable)

Violations when debt collectors take legal action against you

If you refuse to pay a debt that you owe, the debt collector has the right to take legal action against you. But as with every other debt collection practice, there are rules in place that protect you.

Debt collectors are committing FDCPA violations if they take legal action in the wrong “judicial district or similar legal entity,” as in:

  • Trying to secure property (that will satisfy the debt) in “a judicial district or similar legal entity” that is different from the one where the property is located
  • Taking legal action in “a judicial district or similar legal entity” that is different from the one where you currently live or where you signed the contract

Dealing with debt collector violations

Reporting violations

The Federal Trade Commission recommends you file a complaint with them (the FTC), your state Attorney General’s office, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Suing them

If a debt collector violates your rights, you have the right to sue them (here’s how).

As explained by the FTC:

“If you win, the judge can require the collector to pay you for any damages you can prove you suffered because of the illegal collection practices, like lost wages and medical bills. The judge can require the debt collector to pay you up to $1,000, even if you can’t prove that you suffered actual damages. You also can be reimbursed for your attorney’s fees and court costs. A group of people also may sue a debt collector as part of a class action lawsuit and recover money for damages up to $500,000, or one percent of the collector’s net worth, whichever amount is lower.”

Dealing with the debt itself

Just because a debt collector commits FDCPA violations, that doesn’t automatically void your responsibility for the debt. If the debt is valid, you are still liable for it. That said, there is always room for negotiation. Learn how to settle debts with collection agencies.

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