Debt collectors can be ruthless.
Sometimes debt collectors call family members, friends and neighbors in pursuit of a past due debt. Is this legal?” Even if it is legal, what can be done to stop debt collectors from this practice?
First, yes, it is legal for debt collectors to call family members, friends and neighbors. But debt collectors are very limited as to what they can say. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), sections 804 & 805, clearly state that:
- A debt collector may contact a family member, friend or neighbor but only for the purpose of trying to locate you. That’s it.
- A debt collector may not disclose that they are calling about an outstanding debt. The debt collector may state their name, however they are not supposed to say they are calling from a collection agency. The debt collector may only disclose they are calling from a collection agency if specifically asked.
The Good News
Most debt collectors don’t resort to this aggressive tactic. But it does occur from time to time.
Debt collectors that use this tactic are deliberately attempting to create pain and embarrassment. They may know full well how to get in touch with you, but they sometimes “play dumb” and call a 3rd-party (i.e. family members, friends and neighbors) under the guise of “trying to locate you”.
Think about it. Your neighbor comes over, eyebrows raised, and hands you a note about some stranger trying to get in touch with you. That’s a little awkward, isn’t it?
So even if the debt collector stays within the bounds of the law, they still accomplish their objective of disrupting your life. Mission accomplished. They’ve successfully embarrassed you.
Slimy tactic. But legal.
How To Put A Stop To This
1. Go right to the source.
This is important.
Call the debt collector back and tell them who you are. Remain calm and let them know you are aware they called and left a message with a 3rd-party that knows you.
It’ll take a little courage to do this, but when you do you’ll feel so good about yourself because you’ve let them know you’re not going to be bullied and intimidated.
Naturally, if you were a client at our office we would do this for you.
2. Be open and honest with them.
Give them your phone number. Address this matter head on and let the debt collector know how they can get in touch with you directly. You have nothing to hide.
You can further acknowledge to the debt collector that you owe the money and you’re not disputing it. Just explain that you’re going through a difficult time financially right now and you are currently unable to pay anything at the present time.
Perhaps even mention that you’re trying to avoid bankruptcy, and you’re sorry about what happened. As soon as you have some funds to work with, you’ll call them back and try to get something worked out.
You will be amazed at how much this disarms a debt collector because they are so used to people making excuse after excuse as to why they cannot pay.
3. Give them specific instructions.
Politely but firmly explain that you do not want them contacting anyone about this matter except you.
Per the FDCPA, once a debt collector knows your phone number they are prohibited from contacting anyone but you. They may no longer contact 3rd-party contacts in an attempt to embarrass you.
4. Document everything.
If a debt collector continues to contact your family members, friends or neighbors even after you instructed them not to, keep a log of everything to potentially build a legal case against them.
Above All Else, Never Do This
As a reminder, never ever send a Cease & Desist letter.
Unfortunately there are some people still living in the dark ages recommending this outdated and dangerous tactic. Cease & Desist letters often trigger lawsuits.
In addition, you want to keep the lines of communication open to eventually reach some type of resolution on your delinquent account. Sending a Cease & Desist letter will cut off that vital line of communication.
Have You Ever Wondered This?
How do debt collectors get the phone numbers of family, friends and neighbors in the first place?
A. The original credit card application.
Way back years ago when you applied for the credit card, remember when they asked for “alternate contacts” or “name of closest relative”? Now you know the reason why.
B. The Internet.
Just hop on to Google or Facebook and you can track down just about anyone. It’s not rocket science.
Prior to the late 1990s and early 2000s it was still kind of hard to track people down on the Internet. But not anymore.
In addition, there are special (and perfectly legal) databases that debt collectors can subscribe to containing even more contact information over and above what is freely available on the Internet.
Hopefully you’re not going to deal with debt collectors contacting family members, friends and neighbors. But if it does happen, now you have an action plan and know what to do.