When you are in debt it feels like you have lost all control. You may receive embarrassing letters or harassing telephone calls at home or work. When this happens to you, protect yourself by learning your consumer rights. One powerful, yet relatively unknown, consumer protection is the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act, or TCPA.
Under the TCPA, a debt collector cannot:
- Call before 8am or after 9pm;
- Call a hospital room using automated dialing; nor
- Call a cell phone without prior express consent.
The TCPA can be tricky for creditors that use auto dialers to contact debtors. The creditor cannot call the debtor’s cell phone without express permission from the debtor. However, the debtor’s express consent could be found in a written document creating the debt, such as a credit card agreement. Obviously, if the telephone harassment is too severe, changing your cell phone number will stop creditors from auto dialing you.
The debt collector who uses an auto dialer must provide a name and contact information for the creditor on whose behalf the call is made. But compliance with the TCPA may run afoul of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, another federal consumer law that prohibits debt collectors from disclosing your debt information to uninterested third parties. For instance, if your babysitter picks up your home phone and takes a message from a collection agency, the creditor has violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
Penalties for violating the TCPA are serious. The TCPA provides for statutory damages of $500 per call, and up to $1500 per call if the violation is willful. If you are receiving auto dialer collection calls on your cell phone, and you did not give express permission to contact you on your cell phone, there are a few steps to take:
- Make a written record of the phone number that called to your cell. Get the name of the person who called, if possible.
- Save any recorded message.
- Save your cell phone bills that have the numbers of the company that called your cell.
- Contact your attorney.
By knowing your rights you can stop debt collection harassment. There are several state and federal laws that you can use to stop debt collectors cold. The most powerful federal law is the bankruptcy code’s automatic stay provision. Once your bankruptcy is filed, all collection calls, lawsuits, garnishments, and other collection activity must immediately stop. If you need this type of powerful relief, contact an experienced bankruptcy attorney for a consultation.