Nothing strikes terror in someone behind on their bills like the fear that the collector will call their family.
It works, too. That fear is second only to a wage garnishment for bringing people to see a bankruptcy lawyer.
The only flaw in the collector’s strategy in contacting your family about your debts is that it’s illegal.
Flat out illegal.
There is a small exception: a collector can contact family or employer to get your contact information. They cannot, lawfully, discuss your debt or identify themselves as a debt collector.
So attempting to use your family to pressure you to pay a debt is forbidden.
Unfortunately, there is a segment of the collection industry that is lawless.
And the law has limits: Federal law applies to third party debt collectors, but not the original creditor. It covers only the collection of consumer debts, not business debts.
California protections broader still
California’s Rosenthall Act adopts many of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act strictures on debt collecting, and makes them applicable to the original creditor as well.
So, under the Rosenthall Act, your original creditor has no more leeway in collection tactics than a third party debt collector does.
Exercising your rights
Like any rights you have, they are only really useful if you insist that your rights be honored.
Both the FDCPA and the Rosenthal act provide for statutory damages payable to the consumer whose rights are violated.
To enforce your rights, you need to gather information about the caller who crosses the line. Make note of their phone number, the date, time, and what they say on the phone. These are the facts that will support your damage for damages.
Being left alone
You have the right not to be contacted about your debts.
That doesn’t mean you can elect not to be legally responsible. It does mean that you are entitled to get collectors off the phone and out of your mailbox.
You have to communicate your desire not to be contacted about your debts one creditor at a time.
A request not to be contacted must be in writing. It should be sent to the correspondence, or billing inquiry address of the creditor, not to the payment address. And you should send it certified mail, return receipt requested, so you have proof that it was received.
The new federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has sample letters you can use to communicate with creditors. Here’s a sample letter for Californians to claim your rights against creditors and collectors.
Again, you need to be able to prove that you invoked this right in order to collect damages. Keep copies of your letter and the proof of receipt. Keep a log if you continue to get calls.
Assess the big picture
On your time line, figure out how big your debt problem is and what your alternatives are.
Image courtesy of verifex and Flickr.