When is Debt Collection Considered Abuse?

What Arizona laws and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act say about collection harassment

In Arizona, consumers are protected against abusive debt collection practices. Under Arizona state law and United States federal law, debt collection agencies must follow certain procedures when attempting to validate and recover a debt for individuals. Harassment is strictly prohibited. This raises an important question: How is debt collector abuse defined under state and federal law?

An Overview of Your Rights Under the FDCPA and Arizona Law

As a starting point, it is worth noting that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) generally provides stronger legal protections to consumers than does Arizona state law, and most legal action will be filed under the FDCPA. “Unfortunately, Arizona doesn’t have a private right of action under its own state laws,” says Russell S. Thompson IV, a consumer law attorney in Mesa. “But Arizona does require debt collectors to be able to have certain information when they are collecting debt, and consumers can request that.”

If you want to know if your rights have been violated, you should consider whether or not a debt collector has complied with their duties under federal law. Under the FDCPA, abusive debt collector practices typically fit into one of the following four categories:

  1. Communications with the Debtor

Debt collectors must follow certain rules when communicating with an alleged debtor. First, they must identify themselves as a debt collector. Second, the FDCPA prevents calls at certain hours. They cannot contact you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., or at times that are known to be inconvenient, such as when the debtor is at work, “when they know the consumer’s place of employment prohibits the consumer from getting those calls,” says Thompson.

People who work from home are also protected. “We see it often, where [debtors] say ‘listen, I work from home, don’t call me before 6:30 p.m., after 6:30 is fine,’ and then people just continue to call, mostly on the auto-dialers, calling at all random times. And at that point they should know that those times are inconvenient because they affect people and their work.

Finally, if you say that you have an attorney, they must go through your lawyer.

  1. Communications with Third Parties

Debt collectors can only contact third parties to get “contact” information and “location” information about a consumer. They cannot tell another person that you owe a debt, how much you owe, or about any other details. Instead, they can simply ask for contact information.

  1. Harassment and Abuse

Thompson says it can be tough to tell when debt collectors cross the line. “But there are a variety of situations that can be considered abuse,” he says. For example, the FDCPA requires debt collectors to use professional language and a professional tone when they speak to you. They cannot scream at you, use profanity, or try to intimidate you.

Further, there are restrictions on how often they can call you. “For example, calling five times a day every single day after day after day after day after day,” Thompson says. “That can be considered harassing."

You also have the right to tell a debt collector that you want to communicate in writing.

  1. Material Misrepresentations

Finally, debt collectors are forbidden from making material misrepresentations to consumers. They cannot threaten you with arrest, they cannot pretend to be somebody else, and they cannot falsely represent how much you actually owe. If you believe that you were lied to or misled, your rights may have been violated under state or federal law.

Take Action to Protect Your Rights

Not only can you file an FDCPA claim to get abusive debt collection practices to stop, but you may be entitled to financial compensation for your damages. To the best of your ability, try to document any abusive or unlawful collection practices.

“We always tell people to save any recordings, whether that be voicemails or if you record the calls that come in. Keep track of all the calls they receive. Write down notes if they have conversations with a debt collector, to keep track of what was said and when it was said, who they spoke with.”

To get the calls to stop, Thompson recommends sending a written request by certified mail. “Under the FDCPA, simply telling somebody to stop calling isn’t enough,” he says. “You have to do it in writing in order for there to be a cease and desist.”

Finally, Thompson suggests disputing the validity of the debt within 30 days of receiving your collection notice to slow down the process and, at the least, get more information. “I almost always would suggest disputing the debt in writing within those 30 days, because it requires the debt collector to cease collecting until they obtain and mail the consumer verification. And I think consumers would be surprised with the number of debt collectors that actually just stop collecting at that point and send the debt back to the creditor or the debt buyer.”

Get an attorney to review your case for free

If you believe you are being harassed by a debt collector, the best thing you can do is have an experienced Arizona consumer protection attorney review your case. “I would almost suggest people always reach out to a lawyer,” Thompson says. Most firms, including his, offer free case reviews. If they take the case, they’ll collect their fees from the debt collector, not the consumer. “It never hurts to get a free attorney involved, to review and see if your rights have been violated,” he says.

For more information on this area, see our collections law overview.

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