And What You Can Do About Collections Harassment
Maine has a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which restricts what collectors can do in pursuing a debt. The act outlaws debt collectors calling dozens of times a day, at work, before 8 p.m. and after 9 p.m., calling and hanging up repeatedly, telling others of a person’s debts, and other forms of harassment. The FDCPA forbids insults, obscene or indecent language, and loud, angry, ranting speech. It also forbids deceit, such as using official-looking letterhead to look like law enforcement, and threatening actions they are unable to do, like taking all of a person’s belongings.
If you have an attorney, you can give the attorney’s name and phone number to the debt collector to stop calls; calling after that information is given is illegal. Most debt collectors will call the attorney to verify that she/he is in fact hired. If you do not have an attorney, you can send the debt collector a letter yourself, instructing them to stop. However, once a debt collector cannot call or write, they may take the next step, which could be a lawsuit.
If the calls and letters do not stop, Maine residents can file a complaint with the Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection, (see below) which can take away the debt collector’s license. All collection agencies everywhere must have a license to operate in Maine, which gives you leverage if the calls do not stop.
There is also a federal FDCPA, which allows consumers to file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission.
You can also hire a lawyer and sue. If you win, the judge may award damages and order the debt collector to pay the consumer’s legal fees.
More Issues and Answers About Collections Laws and Practices
Collection calls at work – You can make the calls stop by telling the collector in writing to stop, but only if your employer does not allow personal calls.
Calling at inconvenient times – The only times the FDCPA forbids calls is before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. If other times are considered inconvenient to your schedule, you must tell the collector when is inconvenient and why, and follow it up with a letter.
Consumer vs. business debts – The FDCPA applies only to consumer debts, for personal, family or household purposes.
Collection agencies only – The FDCPA doesn’t apply to banks, credit unions, or credit card companies, only to the debt collection companies. Of course, banks cannot abuse you with calls either, but it is much harder to take action against a bank.
Debt buying companies – These companies pay pennies on the dollar for overdue debts, and pursue the borrowers intensely to try to collect the full amount owed. These companies are also required to follow the guidelines under the FDCPA.
Location information – Collectors can contact others if their purpose is to find the person owing the debt, cannot ask for any other information, and cannot disclose that he is trying to collect a debt.
Miranda warnings – The first collection call and letter must contain the statement: “This is an attempt to collect a debt and any information obtained will be used for that purpose.” All calls and letters after must state that it is from a debt collector.
Validation of debts – The collector must inform the borrower that he has the right to dispute the debt and demand verification of it. If the borrower believes the debt isn’t owed, you must write to the collector to ask for verification. Collections must stop until the collector responds.
Related Legal Terms
Debt Collector – any person whose main purpose is collecting any debt, or who attempts to collect debts owed to another
Harassment or Abuse – conduct which consequence is to harass, oppress, or abuse any person in the collection of a debt. For example:
The threat of or use of violence or other criminal means to physically harm the person, reputation, or property of any person;
The use of obscene or profane language to abuse the hearer or reader;
The publication of a list of consumers who allegedly refuse to pay debts, except to a reporting agency;
The advertisement for sale of any debt to coerce payment;
Causing the phone to ring or talking on the phone with a borrower repeatedly or continuously with the intent to annoy or harass anyone at the phone number; and
Contacting the borrower by postcard.
Verification of Debt – a record or document that proves who owes what to whom. This can include a loan application, a credit card agreement, or a printout of account information.
Post-Dated Check – a check that is dated for some future date. It is illegal for the collector to make the borrower post-date by more than five days, and it is illegal to make the consumer write a check for the purpose of threats of criminal charges If the check is no good.
Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection – a division of the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, which protects consumers by responding to consumer complaints and issuing licenses. To contact, go to www.maine.gov.
For a Maine Consumer Collections Attorney
This is for general information only. It is not intended as legal advice.