People across the U.S. are struggling with debt, and Florida is no exception. According to a recent study, the average credit card debt has climbed as high as $10,500 for households in Orlando, Florida.
However, even if you are in debt, it is essential to know that you still have the right to privacy, dignity, and personal safety. For example, a debt collector cannot threaten you, reveal your personal information, or harass you at your place of employment. On the other hand, a debt defense lawyer can help you protect your legal rights.
Dalyla Santos, a civil lawyer and the founder of The Santos Law Offices, PA, in Miami and Orlando, Florida, explains debtor rights and unlawful debt collection tactics in the state.
Understanding the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
The FDCPA (Fair Debt Collection Practices Act) is a federal law restricting the practices of third parties (debt collectors) who collect debt on behalf of lenders. The FDCPA specifies, among other things, how often and at which times of day debt collectors may contact debtors.
It is vital to understand that the FDCPA covers third-party debt collection agencies, not original lenders attempting to collect debts directly.
Here are some examples of prohibited practices under the FDCPA:
- Calling the debtor after 9 p.m. or before 8 a.m. without explicit permission
- Contacting a debtor at their place of work after the debtor has asked not to call there
- Using threats, deception, or abusive language while talking to a debtor
- Revealing information about the debt to the debtor’s family and friends
Within five days of the first contact, the third-party debt collector must send the debtor an official validation notice specifying the amount of debt and the creditor’s name. The debtor then has 30 days to verify the debt and decide what to do.
What Is the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act?
The FCCPA (Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act) backs up and expands upon the FDCPA. Unlike the FDCPA, it forbids both original creditors and debt collectors from using abusive language, deception, violence, threats, and other unlawful practices while attempting to collect debts in Florida.
Prohibited Collection Practices in Florida
Among other actions, the FCCPA forbids creditors and third-party debt collectors from:
- Pretending to act on behalf of official authorities such as government agencies or the police
- Threatening to tell other people, like your family or your employer, about the debt
- Contacting you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. without your permission
- Pretending to be attorneys or falsely stating that a consumer lawyer is involved in the debt collection case
- Attempting to collect a debt that has already expired per the Florida statute of limitations (usually, five years for personal loans)
- Persisting in trying to contact you after you have explicitly stated that you will only communicate through your civil attorney
What Is the Difference Between an Original Creditor and a Debt Buyer?
Sometimes, creditors may decide that a debt is not worth pursuing, so they will sell it to a debt buyer. Debt buyers are entities that specialize in purchasing delinquent debts cheaply and then trying to collect the total debt amount, often using aggressive, unlawful practices.
Most often, debt buyers pursue credit card debt, but they may also buy auto loans, utility debts, mortgages, and so on. Unlike a third-party debt collector, a debt buyer becomes the legal creditor after purchasing the debt.
What Happens If a Debt Collector or Creditor Violates the FCCPA?
If a creditor or debt collector violates the FCCPA terms, the debtor can file a civil lawsuit against the debt-collecting entity. In some cases, Florida courts may award debtors:
- Actual damages
- Statutory damages up to $1,000
- Punitive damages
- Attorneys’ fees
- Court expenses
Suppose a third-party debt collector (not the original creditor or debt buyer) employs deceptive, threatening, or abusive behavior while attempting to collect the debt. In that case, you may also file a lawsuit under FDCPA.
You can also issue a complaint through Florida’s Office of Financial Regulation, especially if you suspect that the debt collector who contacted you is not registered in Florida. An unlicensed debt collector may have to pay a fine of up to $10,000, not including court expenses and attorneys’ fees.
Don’t Deal with a Creditor or Debt Collector Alone. Let Us Help.
At The Santos Law Offices, PA, our team will defend your rights and stop creditor harassment.
We offer free consultations, including Saturday consults by appointment. We will do this call over the phone or Zoom for your convenience, so you don’t have to deal with traffic or parking.
If you prefer a face-to-face meeting with a debt defense lawyer, you can also schedule an appointment in our law firm’s Miami or Orlando offices. We also speak Spanish.
Copyright© 2021. The Santos Law Offices, PA. All rights reserved.
The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information in this post should be construed as legal advice from the individual author or the law firm, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting based on any information included in or accessible through this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.