What is an "unfair" practice by a debt collector?

A federal law, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), says that a debt collector is not allowed to use unfair practices to collect a debt. For example, a debt collector may not: 

  • Try to collect charges in addition to the debt unless they are allowed by the contract or state law
  • Deposit a post-dated check early
  • Communicate with you about a debt by postcard
  • Use any language or symbol on an envelope for correspondence with you (other than its address) that indicates it is a debt collector

This federal law also prohibits debt collectors from using false, deceptive, or misleading practices. This includes:

  • Misrepresentations about the debt, including the amount owed 
  • Falsely claiming that the person contacting you is an attorney  
  • Threats to have you arrested
  • Threats to do things that cannot legally be done, or threats to do things that the debt collector has no intention of doing. 

A debt collector is also not allowed to harass you. In addition, there are state and other federal laws that generally prohibit practices that might be considered unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices.

If you believe a debt collector is using an unfair practice while collecting a debt, contact the CFPB, the FTC, or your state's attorney general. You can also sue the debt collector for this or other violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). If you sue under this federal law and win, the debt collector must generally pay your attorney’s fees, and may also have to pay you damages.

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