No. Debt collectors can call family members, but only to obtain your address and phone number. They may not reveal that they are a debt collector or indicate that you owe a debt.
Why is a debt collector calling my family?
Debt collectors call family members for a variety of reasons. They could simply be looking for your phone number or address, but the reason could be more nefarious. For example, debt collectors may try to get your family to pay the debt for you out of fear, concern, or empathy. Federal law not only recognizes the embarrassing nature of a debt collector revealing to your family and friends that you have an account in collection, but specifically prevents debt collectors from using this tactic to pressure you into paying them.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) prohibits debt collectors from engaging in actions that have the natural consequence of harassing, oppressing, or abusing you. It also specifically prohibits debt collectors from publicizing your debts, and this includes communications with your family. Section 805 of the FDCPA sets forth rules that debt collectors must abide by when communicating with third parties like family members or friends.
What is a debt collector allowed to say to my family?
The government recognizes a debt collector’s need to locate a consumer in order to collect on debt. To accommodate this need, the FDCPA allows debt collectors to call third parties. When they do, a debt collector:
- Must Identify himself.
- Can only ask where you live, what your phone number is, and where you work.
- Must identify his employer if asked.
- Cannot mention that you owe a debt.
- Can only contact your family member once unless they request that he calls back or if he reasonably believes that the family member has new information about your location.
- Cannot send a family member something in writing about your debt
However, if you previously gave the debt collect express permission to communicate with a family member about your debt, then they may do so. If there is a court judgment against you and contacting your family member about the judgment is reasonably necessary in order to enforce the judgment, the debt collector may do so. Furthermore, if a family member co-signed on your debt, then the rules of Section 805 do not apply to communications with that co-signer because they are not a third party; as a co-signer, this is actually their debt, too.
In cases where a family member misrepresented themselves to be the person who owes the debt and the debt collector unintentionally provided information about the debt to the family member based on this representation, courts have found that the collector did not violate the Act. (See Lovelace vs. Stephens & Michaels Assoc., Inc.)
Can I stop a collector from talking to my family?
If a debt collector’s calls to your family members do not violate the FDCPA—they have not revealed their identity as a debt collector, have not otherwise indicated that you owe a debt, are not calling continuously or repeatedly, and are not calling your family with the intent to harass, annoy, or embarrass you – then there are two things you can do to stop a debt collector from talking to your family:
- Send a cease and desist letter to the debt collection agency. The agency can then only contact you, and then only to let you know that they are no longer pursuing collection or that they are taking you to court.
- Engage a fair debt lawyer to represent you in suing the debt collector for FDCPA violations. The debt collector can then only contact your attorney.
It is not legal for a debt collector to contact a family member to intimidate or harass you.
If you believe that a debt collector has acted illegally in contacting your family members, you can sue the debt collection agency. You may be entitled to the following remedies:
- Actual damages.
- Statutory damages of up to $1,000.
- Court costs.
- Attorney fees.
If a debt collector has been hounding you, call 475-277-1600 or complete our online form for a free, no obligation case evaluation. Our attorneys have experience in fighting debt collectors and standing up for consumers.
Lovelace vs. Stephens & Michaels Assoc., Inc., 2007 WL 3333019, at *4 (E.D. Mich. Nov. 9, 2007)
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