Alabama consumers are facing an onslaught of debt collectors and debt buyers contacting ex-spouses, children, parents, neighbors, co-workers, and other “third parties” in an effort to bring pressure and shame on them to pay the collection agency, even if the Alabama consumer does not owe any money. We want to address this increasing problem and provide some guidance on possible solutions (including suing these abusive collectors) for you if you are dealing with this problem.
In a previous post, we addressed the four elements which are necessary for a collection agency’s actions to be covered by the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA). We also addressed the four types of violations that commonly occur.
Probably one the most unfair and disrespectful types of misconduct that debt collectors and debt buyers engage in is this very subject of contacting third parties – that is anyone who is not the debtor or the debtor’s spouse.
Here is the way that this normally works. The debt collector will be unsuccessful in getting the consumer to agree to pay or to actually pay. We will discuss this in a further blog post, but debt collectors are interested in obtaining two things from consumers: (1) Payment or (2) A promise to pay.
When a debt collector can not obtain one of these two things, then the pressure must be intensified against the consumer to force the consumer to either pay or promise to pay. One of the most effective ways to do this is to contact third parties. So the debt collector will start calling all of the consumer’s neighbors. The conversation will go something like this.
Debt collector: I was trying to reach Joe Consumer and I have not been able to get him. Do you know his phone number?
Neighbor: Yes he lives next door to me. Why do you need this information?
Debt collector: Well, I can’t get him to return my phone calls. Is everything okay with him?
Neighbor: I think so. What’s wrong?
Debt collector: I don’t know. Do you want to go check on him?
Debt collector: When you do, ask him to call me at 205-555-5555 and tell him it’s an important message.
This is a violation of the FDCPA.
The FDCPA only allows a debt collector to contact a third party to find out what is called “location information”. This means the consumer’s:
(1) Home phone number (2) Home address, and
(3) Place of employment.
The debt collector is not allowed to ask the third party to give a message to the consumer, or to call the consumer, or to do anything other than to provide the location information. If the collection agency has the location information, then it is not allowed to request this information from a third party as there is no need for it, and in fact the only reason to request that would be to intimidate the consumer.
If you are dealing with a collection agency or a debt buyer and they have contacted third parties, please feel free to contact us if you live in Alabama, or contact a local consumer attorney to help you understand your rights and whether it would be appropriate to file suit against the collection agency for violating your federal rights in this way.
Another resource for you is to join our Facebook Fan Page – Alabama Consumer Protection Attorneys where we share useful information about the same types of issues that we cover in this blog.