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 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.
There are a few exceptions to this blanket rule.
The collector is allowed to communicate information about your debt to:
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.
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.
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:
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.