Unfair Debt Collectors Beware

Hardworking individuals today are finding it increasingly difficult to meet their expenses. Mortgage foreclosures, credit card defaults, and vehicle repossessions are reaching record proportions. With the rise in defaults come the inevitable collection efforts by creditors and debt collection agencies. In some cases, the collection efforts cause more pain than the default itself. Fortunately for Florida residents, there is a body of law designed to combat overzealous creditors and bill collectors. Unfortunately, the law, located in Chapter 559 of the Florida Statutes and referred to as the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act, is little-known and greatly underutilized.

Collection efforts are allowed and take many forms, from lawsuits, dunning notices, phone calls, to reporting the debt to credit reporting agencies. Thankfully, the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act prohibits some activities and provides a remedy for breaches. Examples of proscribed activities include using or threatening violence; communicating or threatening to communicate with a debtor’s employer prior to obtaining final judgment; communicating with such frequency as to constitute harassment; using profane or vulgar language in a communication; simulating in any manner a law enforcement officer or a representative of any governmental agency; and communicating with the debtor between the hours of 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. It is also unlawful to claim, attempt, or threaten to enforce a debt when the collector knows that the debt is not legitimate or assert the existence of some other legal right when such collector knows that the right does not exist. This particular violation is quite common and typically arises in the context of a debt that once existed but was resolved.

Where violations of the Act have occurred, the persons harmed are entitled to recover actual damages and additional statutory damages, together with court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees. In addition, the defendant debt collector frequently agrees to forgive the debt and report it as resolved to the credit reporting agencies (such as Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). Thanks to the attorney’s fee provision contained within the Act, attorneys will typically agree to handle these cases on a contingent basis, which means that the harmed debtor will not incur any out of pocket expenses.

The odds of being victimized by a violation of the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act are exceedingly high. Collection efforts may lawfully continue for years after the statute of limitations for bringing suit on the debt has expired and pertain to a large variety of consumer debts beyond the most apparent examples described in the first paragraph of this article. (Other consumer debts subject to collection practices include medical bills; promissory notes; utility bills; and student loans.)

Creditors may employ lawful means to collect debts. However, many debt collectors cross the line and when they do, consumers can fight back. When in doubt, consult an attorney.

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