With a combination of both Florida and federal law, collections agencies have a code of conduct that they must follow in order to do their work legally. In the sections below, legal considerations about some of the most concerning aspects of debt collections are outlined, specifically for residents in the state of Florida.
Statutes of Limitations: A statute of limitations on a debt is defined as the period of time following the last payment made on an account, during which a creditor can successfully sue for payment. Once the statute of limitations has expired, however, the debtor has an absolute defense in the case of a lawsuit. In other words, you no longer have to pay.
The statute of limitations in Florida is five years for written agreements and four years for oral agreements. It is important to realize that statutes of limitation on debts do not affect how long they may be listed on your credit report – generally for seven years.
Contact from Collectors: Collectors obtain “bad” debts from original creditors, either by being assigned to them or (usually) by buying them. Your creditor is not obligated to inform you if your account is transferred to a collections agency, so sometimes the first clue that you get is a most unexpected phone call or letter.
When you are contacted by a collections agency for the first time, they are required to send you a written notice in the mail within five days. The notice must include three important pieces of information: (1) the total amount of money that you owe, (2) the name of your original creditor, and (3) the actions that you should take if you wish to dispute the debt.
Collectors may contact you about your debt by phone, mail, fax, or telegram, both at your home and at work. If there is a specific type of contact that you would like stopped or altered, then you should state your wishes in writing and send them to the collections agency via mail.
For example, if your employer disapproves of calls to you at work, then you should tell them this and that you would like such calls to stop. If the hours during which collectors are allowed to call without approval (8am-9pm) are inconvenient for you, then you should tell them to call another time.
If you have representation by an attorney, then collectors should contact your attorney instead of you directly once you have told them this.
Disputing the Debt: If a collector contacts you to demand payment on a debt that you believe to have been paid or that you do not recognize, then you must dispute the debt with 30 days of initial contact with the collections agency.
No matter what message you want to get across to a debt collections company, you should do it in writing. Particularly, with very important correspondence such a dispute, you should send your mail certified and with a delivery receipt. Such documentation is essential, especially if there is a difference in opinion on your liability for the debt.
Do not send original documents to collectors, but do send copies of documents that support your position. Once you make your dispute in this way, then the collections agency may not contact you again without providing its own proof of the debt. In the event that the debt you are being contacted about is someone else’s, they may ask for proof of your identity.
If you file a dispute on your debt, then the collections agency must report this dispute to the consumer credit agencies if they choose to report your debt. It’s either all or nothing when it comes to reporting.
What Collectors Must Do: Debt collectors who contact individuals in Florida must be registered with the state, including those debt collectors who are based elsewhere. They must be completely honest with you about their identity and their purpose. Any collector who calls you must tell you their name and the name of the collections agency upon your request.
Collectors must also protect your privacy, according to state and/or federal law, in the following ways:
• They cannot disclose any information about your debt that potentially could harm your reputation to anyone outside of your family.
• Publishing or contributing to any type of “deadbeat list” or “black list” is illegal.
• Mail sent by the collections agency cannot contain any immediately visible information that could embarrass the debtor or reveal the debtor’s situation.
• Collectors cannot reveal any information about your financial situation or their collections efforts to your employer without first obtaining a court order (such as for wage garnishment).
What Collectors Must Not Do: In addition to their responsibilities as outlined above, debt collectors also are obligated to refrain from any type of harassment, abuse, or deliberate misleading of debtors.
The following types of harassment / abuse are illegal:
- Use of obscene or profane language.
- Calling a debtor or his or her family repeatedly with the intent to annoy or irritate.
- Threats of violence against a debtor or his or her property.
- Threats to advertise one’s debt.
- Threats to take any action that is illegal, or that the collector does not really intend to take.
- Leading a debtor to believe that the collector is an attorney, a law enforcement official, from a government agency, from a credit bureau, or approved by the government.
- Using stationary or forms that are made to look like legal documents or official government documents.
- Implying that the debtor has committed a crime or is going to jail.
- Attempting to collect a debt that is known to be incorrect.
- Hiding one’s identity so that a debtor is fooled into paying for a collect call or telegram.