The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) places strict limits on who debt collectors can contact about a debt you owe. For the most part, collection agencies and collectors can only communicate with you. However, there are a few exceptions; for example, the collector can contact your attorney. And in a few circumstances collectors can contact third parties in order to get location information about you. Read on to learn the rules.
(To learn about other collection activities that the FDCPA prohibits, visit our Illegal Debt Collection Practices area.)
The General Rule: No Communication With Third Parties
The FDCPA expressly prohibits debt collectors from communicating with third parties about your debt, with a few limited exceptions. Congress enacted this rule in order to protect the privacy of debtors. For the most part, collectors cannot contact your friends, neighbors, employer, or even most family members.
This rule has implications beyond merely talking to third parties. For example, leaving messages on an answering machine that could be heard by others would violate this rule.
Exceptions to the Rule
There are a few exceptions to this blanket rule.
Contact Permitted for a Few Specific Parties
The collector is allowed to communicate information about your debt to:
- your attorney
- a credit reporting agency
- the creditor to whom you originally owed the debt
- the creditor or debt collector’s attorney
- your spouse
- your parent if you are a minor (state law determines at what age a child is still a minor)
- your guardian or executor, and
- a codebtor (someone who is obligated to pay the debt with you).
You Can Consent to Third Party Contacts
The debt collector can talk to someone else about your debt if you consent to the communication. In this situation, the consent is valid only if you give it directly to the collector. Even if someone else is making payments on your bill, the collector cannot talk to that person unless you specifically tell the collector that she can do so.
A Court Can Allow Third Party Contacts
If a court of law rules that a collector can contact a certain third party about your debt, the debt collector will be allowed to do so. This rarely happens.
Contact Permitted for the Purpose of Getting Location Information
A debt collector can contact a third party for the narrow purpose of getting your home address and phone number, or to get your work address. However, in these communications, the collector must comply with the following additional rules:
- state that he or she is confirming location information about the consumer
- not use the debt collection agency’s name unless the third party requests it
- not state that the consumer owes a debt
- not communicate with anyone more than once (unless the third party requests more contact or the information given the first time was not correct or complete)
- not use a postcard
- not use anything on an envelope that would indicate the communication is about a debt, and
- not contact anyone else if the consumer has an attorney and the collector is aware of that fact.
Contact in Post-Judgment Collection Efforts
The prohibition on third-party contacts loosens a bit if the collector is trying to collect on a judgment (a court order obtained through a lawsuit that states you owe money). Contacts in this context must be reasonably necessary to enforcement of the judgment. For example, a debt collector can send a garnishment order to your employer.