High-pressure debt collectors want to call your friends, neighbors and family members. They’ll likely say that they’re having trouble reaching you or just trying to get a message to you before a deadline passes or something of that nature, but it’s usually a lie. Debt collectors want to call the people in your life because they’re hoping that by embarrassing you and inconveniencing the people around you, they’ll pressure you into making payment—whether the debt is valid or not.
Fortunately, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) imposes strict rules about when and why a debt collector or debt buyer may contact third parties.
Permissible Third Party Contacts Under the FDCPA
Generally, the only parties a debt collector may communicate with in the attempt to collect a debt are the debtor, the debtor’s attorney, the creditor, the creditor’s attorney, the debt collector’s attorney and in some circumstances credit reporting agencies.
Note that your mother is not on that list.
However, debt collectors are allowed to contact third parties under very limited circumstances. They include:
- When you have consented to the contact (for example, you’ve told the debt collector that you do not have a telephone at present, so they may contact your sister if they need to reach you);
- When a court has granted permission to the collector to make such contact; or
- For the purpose of acquiring location information.
Contacting Third Parties for Location Information
Often, debt collectors who contact third parties already have your contact information. Although they are allowed to contact third parties to confirm location information in some circumstances, a debt collector who has already reached you at a given telephone number or otherwise verified your address and telephone number has no legitimate purpose for contacting a third party.
When a debt collector actually does not have or is uncertain about your current contact information, third party contact is permitted. However, strict limitations still apply. For example:
A Debt Collector May Not Contact a Third Party More than Once
A debt collector may contact a third party once to ask for location information. Regardless of whether that third party provides the requested information, the debt collector may not contact that person again unless the person requests further contact, or the debt collector has reason to believe that the third party has acquired updated or more complete information since the previous contact.
For example, if a debt collector calls your ex-brother-in-law and he says, “I don’t have that information, but my ex-wife might. Let me check with her and call me back next week,” then the debt collector may call again. Of course, that sort of thing happens rarely, so most repeat contacts of third parties are FDCPA violations.
A Debt Collector May Not Tell a Third Party about Your Debt
Debt collectors contacting third parties are strictly limited in the information they can offer to the person they’re contacting. They may not tell the third party that you owe a debt or that they are attempting to collect on a debt. The debt collector can’t even tell the third party the name of his employer unless specifically asked.
Debt Collectors May Not Leave Messages with Third Parties
Except as described above—for example, where you’ve expressly granted permission to leave a message with your sister—debt collectors may not contact third parties for the purpose of passing messages. “Obtaining location information” is defined narrowly.
FDCPA Claims for Third Party Contact
The FDCPA protects not just the debtor, but also innocent friends and family who are being harassed by debt collectors with regard to someone else’s debt. Thus, a debt collector who has violated the limitations on third party contact may be liable to both the debtor and the third party.
If your friends and family are being hounded by debt collectors because of a debt they claim you owe, or if you are being harassed over someone else’s debt, talk to an FDCPA attorney today. In addition to stopping the calls, you may be entitled to money damages.