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Phone Harassment

Are you sick of dealing with phone harassment? Debt collectors, credit card companies, service providers and telemarketers bombard us with calls, including from auto-dialers and with pre-recorded messages. Calls and texts early in the morning, during dinner, when you are with company or otherwise are busy are an invasion of your privacy. These calls can happen anytime you are late on a bill, including when you are expecting repossession, for the wrong party or be sales calls. How you stop telephone harassment, including collection calls, robodialed calls, telemarketing calls and other annoying calls, can depend on several different factors, including who’s calling you, how they’re dialing you and where you are when they call.

For example, original creditors are not covered by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act’s “stop calling” provisions but may still be prevented from auto-dialing you under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Similarly, you may need to send the collector a “stop calling letter” to prevent calls at home, but may be able to orally cease calls while you are at work. Moreover, different rules will apply if a third party is being called about your debt, or if the calls are purely for telemarketing purposes. And if these contacts are made to your cell phone, the collector or telemarketer may have violated the TCPA.

No matter, you can save yourself a great deal of harassment by sending a stop calling letter after a very first call, or by employing the FDCPAs rules for stopping collection calls entirely once you are represented or the TCPAs revocation of consent principles. Also, you can use when and who can’t call as a starting point for regulating when and how they can call.

How can you stop debt collectors from calling?

The most effective and immediate way to stop collection calls entirely, including inconvenient calls while you are home that invade your privacy, is to use the FDCPA’s rule on ceasing communications. The FDCPA states if you notify the collector in writing that you either refuse to pay the debt, or that you just want the debt collector to cease further communication with you, the collector must do so with respect to such debt. Send a copy of the letter certified mail, and save a copy of it along with the certified receipt (or just take a picture of the letter and the receipt). And although though you only have thirty days from receipt of the initial communication to dispute the debt, you can send a cease and desist letter anytime.

How can you stop collection calls at work?

Collectors should only call someone other than you at work to verify your employment. Discussing your debt or any other personal information is illegal! If your employer objects to collectors calling the workplace, either you or your employer must inform collectors of the “no call policy.” This can be verbally or in writing (the FDCPA supports verbal notification). Once informed, any additional calls to your work place violates the FDCPA and opens the collector up to a lawsuit. Apart, the collector also should not call your workplace to begin with if he or she has reason to know such calls are inconvenient.

When are bill collectors not allowed to call?

Unless you give debt collectors permission to do otherwise, they can only contact you under specific conditions and during certain times of the day. This includes never calling you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. your time; not contacting you at any other unusual time or place or time, or at a place or time known or which should be known to be inconvenient to you; and not calling you at work if your employer disapproves and you/a co-worker/your employer informs them, or they had other reason to know would be inconvenient to you.

Further, collectors cannot continuously call you. Section 1692c(5) prohibits contacting the consumer by telephone “repeatedly or continuously with intent to annoy, abuse, or harass any person at the called number.” Continuously means making a series of telephone calls, one right after the other, and “repeatedly” can mean calling with excessive frequency under the circumstances. So if they’ve already called you today they probably shouldn’t be calling again, and their call campaign shouldn’t run for so many days or calls total as to be considered harassing.

The key here is the words “known to be inconvenient.” From your point of view, calling on Sunday morning, or in the middle of a holiday dinner, is inconvenient, and most reasonable people would agree. But not all collectors are reasonable, and some have perfected the art of timing their calls for the most inconvenient time. These callers are adept at skirting around the boundaries of acceptable times and places. If you point out that it’s not a good time to talk, provide a time when they can call back. If they ignore you and keep pressing their demand for payment, they are quickly moving toward illegal behavior.

How do you stop creditors from calling?

Calls from original creditors are usually exempted from the FDCPA’s reach. And although there are a few state fair debt laws that cover this situation, the most effective tool to stop creditor harassment may be the federal Robocall Law, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act is a federal law that makes it illegal for any person or any company to use an auto dialer to contact you without your prior express consent. The TCPA prohibits unauthorized telemarketing calls, auto-dialed “robo” calls and text messages to a cell phone, and unsolicited junk faxes. These include debt collection communications from original creditors. This law can award you damages of between $500 and $1,500 per call/text against anyone who violates your right to privacy with these annoying robotized messages and texts without “prior express consent.” It also prohibits a telemarketer from calling a consumer if the consumer’s phone number is listed on the National Do-Not-Call List. Read the complete Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

Essentially, any entity that utilizes an auto-dialer to place phone calls or send text messages to your cell in a manner prohibited by the statute. Common examples of entities which tend to be regulated by this law include debt collectors, creditors, telemarketers, companies who are hired to advertise, service providers, and solicitors. When these persons or agencies contact you, without your permission, through the use of an automated dialing system or by using a pre-recorded or artificial voice, or by sending an unsolicited text message it is possible that your rights under the TCPA are at risk. If you have not given your permission (such as when applying for a loan or in a conversation with them), your TCPA rights may be violated if (1) they call or text message your cell phone using an auto-dialer; (2) call your cell phone and use a pre-recorded voice; (3) auto-dial your residential phone to deliver certain types of telemarketing calls; (4) call your residential line using a pre-recorded voice with certain types of telemarketing calls; or (5) send a junk fax to your fax machine without properly identifying themselves and their number. The TCPA also applies to wrong party calls from collectors or creditors, telemarketers and anyone else.

What if debt collectors are calling the wrong person?

If you receive calls from collectors looking for someone who lived in the house or apartment before you, had the phone number you have now, or the person’s name is the same or similar to yours, your rights under the FDCPA, TCPA and/or state fair debt laws may be violated.

Do not take their harassment! Tape the calls and tell the caller that you are doing so for evidence of their illegal behavior and that you intend to file a complaint. Then, contact a consumer protection lawyer or your State Attorney General’s consumer protection division, or the CFPB.

If they ask for your social security number DO NOT provide it, not even part! Instead, have them tell you what number they are looking for and then you can verify whether it is or is not your number. If it is your number, and you believe there is a mistaken identity start thinking IDENTITY FRAUD and take action to protect your credit reports. Tell the collector you believe this might be fraud or ID theft. If the number is your SS number and the debt might be yours, then act in good faith and tell the collector so. Remember you still have the right to dispute the debt if, even after discussing it, you believe it to be invalid.

How can you stop collectors from calling other people about the debt?

Unless you consent, a court order or section 1692b permits, “or as reasonably necessary to effectuate a post-judgment judicial remedy,” debt collectors “may not communicate, in connection with the collection of any debt, with any person other than you, your attorney, a consumer reporting agency if otherwise permitted by law, your creditor, the attorney of the creditor, and the attorney of the debt collector.”

Collectors are allowed to call third parties to verify location information. This means they can call your family, friends, neighbors and employer. However, the information they reveal about you and themselves and the questions they can ask is strictly limited by the FDCPA. When contacting third parties they must identify themselves but not state that you owe any debt; they can say that they are confirming or correcting information they have about your location, address, phone number, and employer only. Also, only if expressly requested to do so, can they identify who they work for. Revealing who they work for does not mean that, once asked, they can discuss your debt.

IMPORTANT, debt collectors may not call third parties under the pretense of gaining information already in their possession. Thus, calling your family, friends, neighbors, employees, employer and so forth, after they already have your phone number, is a serious violation of the FDCPA and should be reported immediately. Also, collectors clearly violate the FDCPA when they call these people more than once or call them after they already have your location information.

The only legal reason for calling neighbors (or any third party) is to locate you. If collectors already have your location information (home phone, home address or work phone and address) then, calling third parties is prohibited. The only possible reason for calling third parties, after they already have your location information, is to embarrass you; a clear violation of the FDCPA.

How can you stop telemarketing calls?

Because your landline and wireless phone numbers are easy to find thanks to public records, telemarketers and other solicitors use these tools to annoy you, usually in the evening hours while your family eats dinner, though many calls may come in during the day or later in the evening and they could be excessive. The TCPA protects you in this situation.

Additionally, the National Do-Not Call List prohibits solicitation calls from contacting registered numbers. The list works for personal landline and wireless numbers. Another annoyance, autodialers and predictive dialers, produce, store and dial telephone numbers in a random or sequential number order. When you answer the phone, you hear a computerized or pre-recorded voice or a hang up. After you answer the call, predictive dialers must transfer the call to a live agent within two seconds. Autodialer or predictive callers must identify the business or individual responsible for the call and a number you can call to stop receiving these calls.

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