Abusive Debt Collectors: Calling you at inconvenient times or places or when you are represented by a lawyer
A debt collector can be guilty of violating the FDCPA (Fair Debt Collection Practices Act) by calling you at inconvenient times — let’s look at this to see what the law prohibits.
Here is the general rule directly from the text of the FDCPA (15 U.S.C. 1692c(a)):
(a) Communication with the consumer generally
Without the prior consent of the consumer given directly to the debt collector or the express permission of a court of competent jurisdiction, a debt collector may not communicate with a consumer in connection with the collection of any debt —
(1) at any unusual time or place or a time or place known or which should be known to be inconvenient to the consumer. In the absence of knowledge of circumstances to the contrary, a debt collector shall assume that the convenient time for communicating with a consumer is after 8 o’clock antemeridian and before 9 o’clock postmeridian, local time at the consumer’s location;
(2) if the debt collector knows the consumer is represented by an attorney with respect to such debt and has knowledge of, or can readily ascertain, such attorney’s name and address, unless the attorney fails to respond within a reasonable period of time to a communication from the debt collector or unless the attorney consents to direct communication with the consumer; or
(3) at the consumer’s place of employment if the debt collector knows or has reason to know that the consumer’s employer prohibits the consumer from receiving such communication.
The three places or times the debt collector is not allowed to call
First, at an inconvenient time or place.
Second, when you are represented by a lawyer and the debt collector knows that you are represented by a lawyer.
Third, at your work when the collector has been told you are not allowed to receive these collection type of calls at work.
What is an “inconvenient time or place” under the FDCPA?
The presumption is any call local time before 8 AM or after 9 PM.
But it can be different.
Let’s look at some examples:
- You work shift work and you sleep from 8 am to 2 pm.
- Your religious beliefs do not allow you to conduct business on Sunday.
- You have a small child at home and calls from 11 am to 1 pm wake up your child.
- Perhaps you are a caregiver and the phone disturbs your relative you are caring for.
If you tell the collector, they should respect what you say and not call during the times that are not convenient for you.
And if you are in a place you can’t take calls — such as a hospital — and you tell the collector this, continuing to call you there is illegal. We sued a debt collector because the collector called us at the hospital when it knew this was not convenient.
So here is the key: Let the collector know when you are not able to receive calls. Don’t make stuff up — be legitimate about when it is not convenient for you. An honorable debt collector will respect this and not call you then. A dishonorable collector will violate your wishes and the law and needs to be sued for money damages.
When you are represented by a lawyer.
You hire a lawyer to help you with a particular debt. Maybe a bankruptcy lawyer (we don’t recommend bankruptcy often but occasionally it is wise to file) or a lawyer to defend you in a debt buyer lawsuit. Whatever the reason, you have a lawyer and you (or your lawyer) tells the debt collector you are represented.
The debt collector calls you anyway.
Is this fair or illegal?
Unless the lawyer won’t respond in a reasonable time to the collector.
Most debt collectors are smart enough not to make this mistake but we do see it — when we are representing someone in a lawsuit filed against them by a debt buyer and the debt buyer (debt collector) calls our client directly. Idiots.
So if you see this happen, know that you may have a nice violation of the FDCPA that will let you sue the abusive collector.
What about at your work?
The general rule is a debt collector can call you at work unless it knows you are not to get these types of calls there. Honestly, 99% of all employers tell their employees not to be taking these types of personal (stressful) calls at work.
So once you tell the collector not to call you at work as you are not allowed to get these types of calls at work — when the collector calls again, they have almost certainly violated this law.
What can you get from an abusive debt collector that breaks the FDCPA by illegally calling you?
First, when you sue them, they will stop bothering you.
Second, when you win or settle your case, you can get compensatory damages to compensate you for your loss. This can be economic (maybe they cost you your job by calling at work) and emotional distress damages (very upsetting to anyone to get illegal collection calls).
Third, you can receive up to $1,000 in “statutory damages” even if you were not actually damaged. This is an incentive damage award to encourage you to file a lawsuit. The federal government can’t police these abusive debt collectors so it wants citizens like you to sue to get the abusive debt collectors to start acting honorably.
Fourth, we normally sue also under “Invasion of Privacy” which is an Alabama tort that often applies. This can get you compensatory damages as described above and also potentially punitive damages to punish the abusive debt collector and “encourage” them (and others) to stop abusing Alabama citizens.
Bottom line of the FDCPA regarding illegal calls
There is nothing inherently wrong with an honorable debt collector calling you as long as they don’t break the law in either the call itself or what they say to you on the phone. (We’ll take a deeper dive into the actual content of calls in a future article).
When you get any calls from a collector, document what has happened as best you can.
Here is an example of what you might write down in a notebook or Word document or Google document:
10/19/2018 at 11:24 am received a call from 1-800-xxx-xxxx and the person calling said their name was Judy from AmSher collections. I asked why they were calling me when I told them on 10/12/2018 not to call my work as I can’t take calls here. She said she didn’t know anything about that but since I was on the phone, how would I like to take care of the bill? I told her not to call me and I hung up. The call lasted for 2:08.
10/12/2018 at 3:34 pm received a call from 1-800-xxx-xxxx and the person calling said their name was Bob from AmSher collections. He asked who I was and then started telling me about a debt he claimed I owed. For an old medical bill from American Family Care. I stopped him and told him to mail me information and to not call me at work as I can’t take these types of calls. He said OK he would document this and they would not call me at work again. The call lasted 1:57.
Point is to document everything as much as possible.
What should you do now?
If you live in Alabama and think you may have received an illegal call from a debt collector, call us at 205-879-2447. Ask to speak to Carolyn or Randi.
We look forward to hearing from you and helping you any way we can!