Do debt collectors have to pay a fee if they call you after you have had an attorney contact them?
April 24, 2008 6:58 AM   Subscribe

Do debt collectors have to pay a fee if they call you after you have had an attorney contact them?

I had a dispute with someone over $140, and they have hired a debt collector. I asked my lawyer to take care of it. The agency (who originally implied they are lawyers, but apparently are not) called myself and my husband several times before I had the lawyer take it over.

My mother said if the debt collection agency calls me or my husband again, that they have to pay a $500 fine each time, since they are not supposed to contact us after the lawyer contacts them. The lawyer told them they need to send him some sort of letter explaining the debt, and he will reply.

They have since called my husband 3 times asking him to pay it, when they know I am not paying it and that we have had our attorney involved.

Do they now really owe us $1500? I have searched online and am having trouble finding something to back up my mother's claim, especially with a figure of $500.
If so, can I just pay her out of it and take the rest? Or do we only get it if this goes to court? Or is this nothing?

We are in the state of Texas. My lawyer is in Pennsylvania. He has been out of town for a few days so I have been unable to catch him in office. Figured you guys might be able to explain if this $500 thing is real or not.

(I know this sounds silly over $140. I was willing to just pay the person the money until they started making outrageous claims about what they did and claiming I am using their work. So please don't tell me to just pay it, since not only do I not owe it but they are really messed up.)
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The federal law is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Here is some Texas specific info. I have never heard the $500 thing, but I don't practice in this area and I am not your lawyer etc. Wait and talk to your lawyer when he gets back. That is what you are paying him for.
posted by ND¢ at 7:17 AM on April 24, 2008

Under the FDCPA and perhaps TX law there are statutory penalties for violations of the Act. However, the penalties must be awarded by a court. In other words, you hire an attorney who will take the case on contingency (45% + fees in MN) and then file a claim in federal court, then file a summary judgement motion, then conduct discovery, then file more motions, then do a lot more work, then if it is not won on summary judgment a schedualing hearing is set, then about 1 - 2 years after you made this post on AskMefi you'll get to court where a judge may or may not assess a penalty against the collection company. Finally your attorney will take her/his fees & costs from the award and give you the remainder, which won't be much.

Or, you could send a letter to the collection company demanding they pay you or you'll turn it over to a collection company. That would be interesting.
posted by Juicylicious at 7:36 AM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Or, you could send a letter to the collection company demanding they pay you or you'll turn it over to a collection company. That would be interesting.

That's a nice idea, and it might be fun, but don't do it. At this point, from my understanding, all communication should go through your attorney.

Can you record the phone calls? (Check to be sure it's legal to record phone calls in Texas, with or without the awareness of the party on the other end.)

And if any messages are left on your voicemail/answering machine from the debt collectors, be sure to save those. Write down the days and times the debt collectors called your husband, and give all the info to your attorney.

Even if you don't get any money out of this -- and there's a good chance you won't -- you'll have more ammo against the debt collection company.

Good luck.

PS. I am not a lawyer, just someone who has done some research on this topic.
posted by brina at 8:09 AM on April 24, 2008

They do not have to pay fees, but there are civil penalties for violating the FDCPA and they are privately actionable.

Privately actionable means that a private citizen who has been wronged can file suit themselves over the matter. Something like assault is not privately actionable, for example, which means the district attorney needs to (choose to) file suit.

The short version is that yes, you only get this amount if you sue. If the facts are fairly cut and dried you can get summary judgment and recoup your filing costs.

From a practical standpoint it's not worth it. Your best strategy is not to get excited by the thought of quick easy money, but rather to use your leverage to get the collection agency to pay the creditor $140 out of their pocket and make it all go away. S/he may little deserve it but choose practicality over greed or vengeance - you'll live longer.

Your best resource for how to attack this is over on Debtor Boards in the forums. You're looking for things like "intent to sue letters" (you suing them, btw), "continued collections activity" and "C&D violations" (cease & desist, which they should have done when you told them to contact your lawyer.
posted by phearlez at 9:44 AM on April 24, 2008

You might search there for a thread titled "ITS for violating telephone C&D, critique please" to give you an idea of the kind of "do this or I will sue and win" strategy people use in these cases.
posted by phearlez at 9:45 AM on April 24, 2008

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