In Maryland, the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and state law regulate debt collectors. The FDCPA applies to every state, and it protects consumers from unfair and deceptive debt collection practices. The FDCPA also prohibits debt collectors from contacting you at certain times and places. Likewise, Maryland has a law protecting consumers from deceptive and abusive behavior by people and businesses collecting debts.
The Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act (MCDCA) adds significant protections to consumers because it covers activity by both debt collectors and creditors. In most situations, the FDCPA only covers debt collectors.
The federal FDCPA sets limits on what debt collectors can and can't do when attempting to get you to pay a debt. For example, the FDCPA:
The FDCPA applies to debt collectors and some third-party debt buyers, but it usually doesn't cover collection activities that an original creditor performs. (But when collecting its own debts, a creditor must comply with the FDCPA if it uses a different name that implies a third party is attempting to collect the debt.)
Maryland law protects consumers from abusive and deceptive debt collection tactics. While the Maryland law is similar to the FDCPA, it also offers additional protection to consumers. For example, it covers creditors as well as debt collectors. (Md. Code Ann., Com. § 14-201).
In addition, the Maryland consumer protection scheme requires that collection agencies be licensed and regulated by a state board. (Md. Code Ann., Com. § 14-202).
The MCDCA applies broadly to any collector. A collector is "a person collecting or attempting to collect an alleged debt arising out of a consumer transaction." (Md. Code Ann., Com. § 14-201). So, unlike the FDCPA, which only applies to people in the business of debt collection (with a few exceptions), the MCDCA covers individuals, estates, or any kind of business or legal entity. So, any person or business seeking payment, such as a creditor, as well as any collection agency or lawyer hired to collect a debt, must comply with the MCDCA.
The Maryland Act covers activity related to the collection of a debt resulting from any transaction involving a person seeking or acquiring "real or personal property, services, money, or credit for personal, family, or household purposes." (Md. Code Ann., Com. § 14-201). So, the law covers most consumer debts, like credit card bills, charge card accounts, car payments, consumer leases, and mortgages.
The MCDCA prohibits the following debt collection activities.
Collectors and creditors may not intimidate a debtor by:
Collectors and creditors may not threaten to communicate with a third party, such as an employer, to undermine the debtor's reputation. Nor may the collector or creditor contact the debtor's employer unless the collector or creditor has a final court judgment confirming that the debt is owed. (Md. Code Ann., Com. § 14-202).
In a few instances, though, a creditor or collector may communicate with a third party. A collector or creditor may contact the debtor's spouse or, if the debtor is a minor, the debtor's parents. A collector or creditor may also contact a third party who has a legitimate business reason to know about the debt, such as someone who has guaranteed the debt. (Md. Code Ann., Com. § 14-202).
A collector or creditor may not try to trick anyone into paying a debt. In particular, a collector or creditor:
If a collector or creditor violates the law, you can take one or more of the following actions.
You can contact the Maryland Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division or call their hotline at 410-528-8662 and contact the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation Commissioner of Financial Regulation.
The Maryland government may take action against a collector who violates the MCDCA. A collection agency can lose its license for violating the MCDCA.
You can also file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) if you have an issue with a debt collector or creditor. After you submit a complaint, the CFPB will work to get you a response, typically within 15 days.
Under the MCDCA, a debtor can sue for actual damages. Maryland law doesn't mention punitive damages but does say the debtor can get damages for "emotional distress or mental anguish." (Md. Code Ann., Com. § 14-203).
If a debt collector uses abusive or deceptive collection behavior that violates the federal FDCPA, you might also be able to file a lawsuit under that federal law. You can file in state or federal court. If you win, you could get actual damages plus up to $1,000 in extra damages. You can also get attorneys' fees.
If you need help initiating a lawsuit, talk to a debt relief lawyer.