Here’s a list of frequently asked questions about New York State debt collection laws and debt collection harassment, including the type and amount of recovery you can receive, how to stop debt collectors, and more about what rights you have as a consumer.
If you have a question that you can’t find the answer to, please ask it at the bottom of this article and I’ll add it to the list.
- Debt Collector Harassment
- 1. What Are Debt Collectors PROHIBITED From Doing?More
Debt collectors are not allowed to harass or abuse anyone in connection with collection of a debt, and they cannot lie when they are trying to collect a debt. Common examples of debt collector violations include:
- Calling your friends, relatives, and neighbors to tell them you owe a debt;
- Calling your employer to tell them you owe a debt;
- Falsely threatening you with a law suit;
- Threatening to have you arrested or implying you will be arrested;
- Using profane or abusive language;
- Calling you before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m.;
- Threatening to send law-enforcement officials to your home or place of employment;
- Falsely threatening to seize your belongings or garnish your wages;
- Threatening to sue you for a debt that is no longer legally collectable;
- Suggesting that your failure to pay a debt is a criminal act;
- Making any false, deceptive, or misleading statements to you;
- Falsely claim you have committed a crime;
- Misrepresent the amount you allegedly owe;
- Indicate the papers they sent you were legal documents when they were not.
- 2. What CAN Debt Collectors do?More
Debt collectors CAN call you at your place of employment, but they are not allowed to inform anyone there about the nature of their call. Also, if the debt collector knows your employer does not permit such calls, or if you have notified the debt collector that it is inconvenient for you to receive such calls at work, they must stop contacting you there.
Debt collectors are only allowed to contact others (your neighbors, family members, or friends) to find location information about you that they do not already have, such as your telephone number, and where you currently live and work. If the debt collector already knows this information and calls third parties about you anyway, or tells anyone they contact that they are trying to collect a debt from you, they are in violation of the FDCPA. Debt collectors cannot contact others simply to “verify” information they already have.
A debt collector is only allowed to call you between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. If a debt collector calls you outside of these times, make a note of the date and time of the call, save all voicemails, and contact us.
- 3. Can a debt collector call my employer or my neighbors?More
If a debt collector is calling you and asking to speak with you at work, you can tell them to stop calling you there. If they continue to call, they are in violation of the FDCPA, and you may be entitled to collect damages.
A debt collector is only allowed to speak with your employer, your co-workers, or your neighbors under limited circumstances to inquire about location information for you (if they do not know where you live or do not know your phone number). It is extremely unusual for a debt collector to know where someone works, but not know where they live or have other contact information for them, so if a debt collector speaks with anyone at your work or your neighbors, it is almost always a violation. In addition, under no circumstances are debt collectors allowed to mention that you owe a debt or give any indication that they are a debt collector. If they do, they are violating your rights. Click here to learn more.
- 4. What laws protect me from Debt Collectors?More
New York State laws protect consumers against unscrupulous debt collectors. But the most common regulation affecting debt collectors is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The FDCPA is arguably the most important law that protects consumers from debt-collection abuse, and provides strict guidelines that all debt collectors must follow when attempting to collect consumer debts.
If a debt collector fails to follow the strict requirements of the law, the FDCPA allows consumers to sue debt collectors for damages, and can even make your abusive debt collector responsible for paying your attorney’s fees.
- 5. What Are Debt Collectors required to do when first contacting me?More
Debt collectors are required by law to inform you in their initial contact with you that they are a debt collector attempting to collect a debt and that any information obtained will be used for that purpose. They must also inform you in their initial communication, or in a written notice within 5 days after the initial contact with you, the amount of the debt; the name of the creditor; and a statement of your rights. Within 30 days after receiving this notice, you have the option to send the debt collector a written notice that you dispute the debt, or that you request verification that the debt is really owed by you, and the name of the original creditor (sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, of course). If the debt collector fails to respond, that debt collector is prohibited from pursuing the debt any further.
- 6. What kind of proof do I need to sue a debt collector for harassing me?More
Some sort of tangible proof. Helpful evidence would be voicemail recordings, letters, telephone records, call logs, and recordings of telephone conversations you’ve had with debt collectors. If a debt collector regularly calls you, keep a note pad nearby, and write down the dates and times of the calls, with the telephone number. If you feel you have suffered mental/health damages as a result of the debt collector’s harassment, you will need something establishing the stress or mental duress (medical reports, testimony from your loved ones, specific damage to your reputation, etc.)
- 7. Can I record telephone conversations with a debt collector? What’s the best way to record debt collectors?More
In New York State, it is perfectly legal to record telephone conversations you have with debt collectors without telling them you are recording the conversation. There are several apps that allow you to do this on a cell phone, or you can start your phone’s voice recorder app, and put the call on speaker phone to record it. If you live outside New York state, you can check the legality of recording telephone conversations in other states by visiting http://www.rcfp.org/rcfp/orders/docs/RECORDING.pdf.
- 8. How do I learn more about the debt collector that's harassing me?
- 9. How do I know If the person harassing me is considered a Debt Collector?More
Collection agencies that specialize in collecting consumer debts, such as Portfolio Recovery Associates, L.L.C., or Rapid Recovery Solution, Inc., are considered debt collectors. Even law firms who regularly engage in the business of collecting consumer debt, such as Forster & Garbus LLP and Zwicker & Associates, P.C. are considered debt collectors.
If the original creditor is contacting you directly (American Express, Citibank, etc.) then they most likely WILL NOT be considered debt collectors for FDCPA purposes.
- 10. How can I stop a debt collector from contacting me?More
If a collector contacts you about a debt and you don’t want the collector to contact you again, tell the collector – in writing – to stop contacting you. Here’s how to do that:
Make a copy of your letter. Send the original by certified mail, and pay for a “return receipt” so you’ll be able to document what the collector received. Sending this letter to a debt collector does not get rid of the debt (if it’s actually owed), but it should stop the contact. Once the collector receives your letter, they may not contact you again, with two exceptions: a collector can contact you to tell you there will be no further contact or to let you know that they or the creditor intend to take a specific action, like filing a lawsuit. Get a sample letter.
- 11. What’s the best way to handle a debt collector if I don’t owe / don’t want to pay the debt?More
You have several options. You can simply tell them to stop contacting you. You can also dispute the debt, request verification of the debt, or you can send a cease and desist letter. If you are unsure which is best for you, feel free to contact me and ask.
- 12. How much money can I get if a debt collector harasses me?More
Each case is unique, and you really should get a free consultation with a FDCPA lawyer to learn what you may qualify for. But for general informational purposes, there are typically 4 types of monetary awards available for debt collector harassment victims. Under the FDCPA, you are entitled to:
- Statutory damages - $1,000 for each violation
- Actual, out-of-pocket losses – loss of job, income, time off from a job, attorney’s fees incurred defending a prior suit, medical expenses, bank fees, etc.
- Actual damages – compensation for lost sleep, stress, stress-related illnesses arising from financial troubles, emotional distress, injury to reputation, nausea, loss of concentration, aggravation, and many other symptoms caused or aggravated by debt collector harassment.
- Punitive damages – available when the debt collector’s harassment is egregious. Willful misconduct or recklessness is required. Punitive damages are awarded to punish the debt collector, and can reach in the millions. The largest punitive damage awarded in a debt collection harassment case so far was $10 million dollars.
- Attorney’s fees – consumer laws allow you to force the debt collector to pay your attorney’s fees for you, so you can have a consumer lawyer represent you at no cost to you.
- 13. Where can I learn more about the FDCPA and New York debt collector harassment laws?