As Georgia injury lawyers at Finch McCranie, LLP representing victims of trucking accidents, automobile accidents, and workers compensation accidents we often see our clients who cannot work because of serious injuries, fall behind in paying their bills. When that happens they often start getting calls from collection agencies and even lawyers attempting to collect. Sometimes these collections people cross the line and violate the law.
This week I read an article about a man with a disabling brain injury and no money who told a debt collection lawyers that the time for seeking payment had expired and that the suit that had previously been filed to collect the debt had been dismissed. Notwithstanding that conversation, the law firm sued him anyway, trying to collect a credit card debt on behalf of the creditor. He hired a lawyer, got the collections suit dismissed and then sued the collections law firm for violating debt collections laws. A jury awarded him $311,000.00!
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, often referred to as the “FDCPA”, was passed by Congress in 1977 in response to abusive conduct by collection agencies, and concern that the abuses were causing an increase in the filings of personal bankruptcies. The purpose of the Act is to provide guidelines for collection agencies which are seeking to collect legitimate debts, while providing protections and remedies for debtors. The FDCPA applies to personal, family, and household debts, including debts associated with the purchase of a car, for medical care, for retail financing, for first and second mortgages, and for money owed on credit card accounts. Please note that most states have similar laws, which typically proscribe the same types of misconduct by debt collectors and which may cover a broader range of debts than the federal law.
The Act regulates the conduct of debt collectors: any person who regularly collects debts owed to others. This definition includes lawyers who perform debt collection services on a regular basis. Even where money is legitimately owed, a debt collector’s conduct is restricted by this law. In-house collection agents are not ordinarily covered by the Act. For example, if you have a store credit card, and the store’s own collection department contacts you, the FDCPA does not apply. However if the same store uses an outside collection agency to contact you in relation to that same debt, the outside agency’s conduct is restricted by the FDCPA. Similarly, if the same store uses an in-house collection agent, but suggests to you that the collection is being performed by a third party, the FDCPA may apply to them as a result of that representation. Please note that there may be other laws in your state which restrict the conduct of in-house collection agents.
In order to prove violations of collections laws a consumer MUST document all communication with the collector. If you do not have a way to record telephone calls coming into your home – get one and don’t erase anything on it.