The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in 1977, protects consumers in West Virginia and around the country against abuse from bill collectors. The law allows debt collectors to contact consumers by telephone, mail, email or text message, but it prohibits abusive, deceptive and unfair practices. It also requires bill collectors to respect written requests from consumers to cease contacting them. Once such a request has been received, debt collectors can only contact consumers to confirm that contact will stop and inform them of any further action.
The landmark consumer protection legislation prohibits debt collectors from:
- Calling consumers before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m
- Using obscene language or threats to collect unpaid debts
- Harassing consumers by calling them repeatedly
- Misrepresenting the amount of money owed
- Pretending to be attorneys or government officials
- Publicly revealing unpaid debts.
- Contacting employers, family members or friends about a consumer’s unpaid debts
Remedies for violating the FDCPA
The FDCPA is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. Consumers who feel that debt collectors have violated the law can report abuse and harassment to the FCC, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Office of the West Virginia Attorney General. They can also sue debt collectors in state and federal courts. Civil lawsuits are usually dismissed when plaintiffs are unable to establish that they suffered harm, but consumers who take legal action in connection with FDCPA violations can be awarded up to $1,000 even if they cannot prove damages. They can also recover court costs and attorney’s fees.
More consumer protection needed
The debt collectors who violate the FDCPA are usually employed by companies that have purchased tranches of unpaid debts from credit card companies or major banks for pennies on the dollar. These companies may not fear the reputational damage that official sanctions and civil lawsuits can cause, so it could be time for Congress to strengthen laws that protect consumers and impose new regulations on the buying and selling of debts.