If you fall behind on your bills, or an error is made on your accounts, you may be contacted by a "debt collector." The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) requires that debt collectors treat you fairly by prohibiting certain methods of debt collection. Unfortunately, not all debt collectors believe that these laws really apply to them.

Personal, family, and household debts are covered under the Act. This includes money owed for the purchase of a car, for medical care, or for credit cards. But only debt collectors—not the creditor itself—are covered. That means the bank that loaned you the money or issued the credit card wouldn't be covered, but its outside collection agency would be.

The FDCPA controls when a collector may and may not call, where you may be called, and how to stop calls. It limits when other people can be called about your past due bills, and how to make them prove you owe the money—or leave you alone.

Debt collectors cannot harass or threaten you, they can't lie and they can't violate your rights. Period.

You have the right to sue a debt collector in a state or federal court within one year from the date from the date the law was violated. If you win, you may recover money for the actual damages you suffered plus an additional amount up to $1,000. Court costs and attorneys fees also can be recovered.

Part of what I do is sue debt collectors on behalf of my clients. I never take an up-front legal fee for this service because when I win, the debt collector will pay my legal fees.

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