Types of improper collection actions

Communications with a person represented by an attorney

If a creditor or collector knows that a person who owes a debt has hired an attorney for representation regarding the debt, the creditor or collector generally is prohibited from contacting the person directly. Many clients retain our office for the "shield" we can provide them from aggressive creditors and collectors. We are also able to recover hundreds of dollars for many of our Bankruptcy clients taking advantage of this law.

Contacts at inconvenient times and places

If a creditor or collector knows that certain places or times are inconvenient for you to talk about the debt, they should not call you there or then. For example, they should not contact you at your place of employment.

It is best to write to any creditor or collector that is calling you at work to tell them it is inconvenient for you to speak to them at work and therefore, they should not call you there. It is best to send any letter to a creditor certified mail, return receipt requested, and always keep a copy for your records. It is presumed that home calls placed after 9:00 p.m. and before 8:00 a.m., are at inconvenient times. However, what is inconvenient is determined on an individual basis. For example, for someone who works third shift, normal business hours may be inconvenient since those are the times that person may be sleeping. You should always tell a creditor/collector that calls what specific times/places are inconvenient and ask them not to call you at that place and time.

Unauthorized third party communications

A creditor or collector has only a limited right to contact someone other than the person who owes the debt. They can contact the parent of a minor who owes the debt and they can contact the spouse of the person who owes the debt. They can also contact other persons who do not owe the debt only to obtain information about the location of the person who owes the debt. This means they cannot contact family members, neighbors, or co-workers and discuss with them that they are trying to collect a debt from another person. They can generally only contact these people one time to try to obtain correct telephone numbers and addresses for the person who owes the debt.

Making of unlawful threats

In the course of collecting debts, a creditor or collector cannot directly or by implication threaten to take action that is either illegal or that which they do not intend to take. For example, they cannot threaten to have a person arrested if they do not pay the debt, threaten a garnishment of wages of a person who works in Pennsylvania (although the wages of persons who work in New Jersey, Maryland and New York can be legally garnished) threaten to take a person's property that is not validly secured before obtaining a judgment, threaten to file suit within a certain period of time and then not follow through and do so, threaten to file suit after the statute of limitations for doing so has expired (generally four years after the date of the last payment on the debt or when the debt was incurred, whichever was later), attempt to collect a debt from someone who does not owe it (such as from a spouse, except for medical bills, the parent of a young adult or a relative of a deceased from the relative's funds) or collect charges and fees not provided for in the original agreement or contract.

Use of obscene, profane or abusive language

A creditor or collector cannot use obscenities, profanity or otherwise verbally abuse the person from whom they are trying to collect a debt.

While it is illegal in Pennsylvania to tape-record someone's conversation unless it is made known there is a recording being done, it is best immediately after having such a conversation with a creditor or collector to write down word-for-word what was said by that person.

Use of post-dated checks

I never recommend that my clients give anyone a post-dated check. However, creditors and collectors often try to convince people who owe money to give them sometimes a series of post-dated checks to make payments on the account allegedly owed. Under these circumstances, where a check is post-dated by more than five (5) days, the creditor/collector must notify the payer in writing of the intention to deposit the check not more than ten (10) nor less than three (3) business days prior to when it is deposited. If you have given a creditor or collector post-dated checks, you should send them a letter, certified mail, return receipt requested, keeping a copy for yourself, stating that you have changed your mind and are canceling the authorization for them to deposit the checks.

To be absolutely certain the money is not withdrawn from your account, you should place a stop payment order with your bank on the post-dated checks that you have sent.

Non-disclosure of creditors/collectors identity

When a creditor/collector calls, he is obligated to provide some meaningful identification upon request. You should always ask for a name and the company where he/she works. Their failure to provide some personal identification, even if only an alias, is a clear violation of the collection laws.

Overheard communications

A creditor/collector has to be very careful that any communications with the person they feel owes the debt are not overheard or seen by someone who is not authorized. For example, this provision can be violated by a creditor/collector using a postcard to mail information about the debt, or using a name, language or symbol on the envelope used to communicate with the person that would make it obvious that they are attempting to collect a debt. Likewise, a creditor/collector has to be very careful when leaving telephone messages. Since the creditor/collector generally does not know who would listen to a message left on a person's answering machine, he should generally not leave any more of a message than his name, the company he is calling from and a telephone number to return the call. Any mention that he is collecting a debt is violation of collection laws.

Validation Notice

Within five (5) days of a debt collector's (but not creditor's) initial contact with a person, it must send to the person what is known as a validation notice. The validation notice states the name of the creditor who assigned the claim to the collector, the amount of the debt, and a notice that the person is given thirty (30) days from the date of that letter to dispute the validity of the debt by writing to the collection agent. If such a request for validation is made, the collector must supply verification proving the debt is owed, such as the original contract from the creditor and the name and address of the original creditor. The collector must cease attempting to collect the debt upon receipt of the verification until the debt is verified.

Right to Stop Collection Contacts

At any time, a person can inform a debt collector (but not creditor) in writing that the person no longer wishes to be contacted by that debt collector or that the debt is disputed. As with all letters sent to a creditor/collector, the person should always send it certified mail, return receipt requested, to prove its receipt and keep a copy for his records. A collector that continues to contact a person after knowing that either the debt is disputed or that the person does not wish any future communication from the debt collector violates federal law.

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