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Vail law: More about federal debt collection laws

Rohn Robbins
Vail, CO Colorado

In the first part of this Vail Daily series, I introduced the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, explaining what it is, what kinds of debts are covered, who is subject to the act and what kinds of restrictions are imposed. In this part, we’ll examine what to do when a debt collector violates the act, how to assert your rights, and what remedies may be available to consumers under the protections of the act.

First, who may a debt collector contact about your debt? If you have an attorney, that’s a good place to start. If you inform the debt collector that you are represented by legal counsel and that is with whom the debt collector should deal, he or she should no longer make contact with you. Of course, the best way to impart this information is via written correspondence to the debt collector informing him that you are represented and providing him with your attorney’s contact information.

If you don’t have an attorney – or elect not to use one – the debt collector may only make inquiries necessary to determine where you live, where you work and how to contact you by phone. If your current address is unknown, the debt collector may send a single letter to your last known employer inquiring about your present address. Generally, a debt collector may make only one inquiry about you to a given third party.



What must a debt collector disclose? Within five days of first contacting you, the debt collector must send you a written notice telling you:

• What you allegedly owe.



• The name of the creditor.

• Unless you dispute the debt within 30 days, the debt will be assumed to be valid.

• If you dispute the debt within 30 days, the debt collector will obtain verification of the debt and mail it to you.



• Upon your written request within the 30-day period, the debt collector will provide you with the name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor.

All notices from the debt collector, including the first notice, must clearly state that the communication is from a debt collector and that any information obtained from you may be used to collect the debt. You should bear in mind, too, that the 30-day notice requirement does not prevent the collector from taking other simultaneous steps to collect the debt, as long that does not impair your rights under the act to contest the debt.

What can you do if you don’t want the debt collector to contact you?

Send him a letter telling him to stop. Once the debt collector receives your letter, he may contact you only once more to tell you what further action he intends to take in order to collect the debt. Be aware that although the phone might stop ringing, your telling the collector to bug off does not resolve the debt. He may take any other action legally permitted to collect the debt, such as filing suit against you.

Within 30 days after receiving written notice from the debt collector, send a letter stating that you do not owe the money and that the debt collector must stop contacting you. Your letter must be hand delivered or postmarked within 30 days of the first written notice from the debt collector. If you are sent proof of the debt, the debt collector may recommence collection.

If a debt collector fails to follow the law, don’t get mad, get even. Under the act, you have the right to sue a debt collector within one year from the date of the violation. If you win, you may recover damages in the amount of any losses you may have suffered, plus up to an additional $1,000. You may also be entitled to attorney fees and costs. If the same scoundrel has engaged in unlawful practices with a number of consumers, a class action suit may be appropriate.

If a debt collector violates the law, you may report the violation to the Attorney General’s office, Department of Consumer Protection (303) 866-4500. If your problem is with an out-of-state debt collection agency, contact the Federal Trade Commission at (877) FTC-HELP.

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, you are entitled to certain protections from unscrupulous debt collection practices. It’s up to you, however, to make sure your rights are guarded and enforced.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at robbins@colorado.net.


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