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If you've been harassed by an overzealous debt collector, the odds are good that they have broken the law. The two federal laws that debt collectors most commonly violate are the TCPA and the FDCPA. There are also state-specific laws that protect your right not to be harassed. In Florida, that law is called the FCCPA.
The short explanation:
The TCPA generally prohibits anyone from doing the following:
• Calling a residential telephone line (also known as a "house phone") and transmitting automated or prerecorded voices.
• Calling a cell phone line and transmitting automated or prerecorded voices.
• Calling a cell phone line while utilizing an "auto-dialer" or a "robo-dialer."
• Sending automated text messages.
The long explanation:
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act, or TCPA, is a federal statute designed to protect consumers from the annoyances of automatic dialers, "robo-calls," unsolicited text messages, unsolicited fax messages, and calls made to a cell phone without consent. If a person or business is found to violate the TCPA, the consumer is entitled to recover up to $1,500 for every call!
When calling a residential telephone line, The TCPA prohibits telemarketing calls using a "computerized" or pre-recorded voice. According to the FCC, debt collection calls are not considered telemarketing calls, and so, the TCPA does not apply when debt collection calls are made to a residential telephone line (also known as a "house phone").
However, when calling a cell phone line, the TCPA prohibits ALL calls made using a "computerized" or pre-recorded voice AND the use of auto-dialers or robo-dialers. The "telemarketing calls only" rule does not apply to calls made to your cell phone. Therefore, debt collection calls made to your cell phone in violation of the TCPA could be worth up to $1,500 for every call!
Sometimes, companies using auto-dialers will call multiple people simultaneously under the assumption that only one consumer will pick up the phone. When that person does, the auto-dialer will automatically hang up the phone for everyone else being called and then transfer the connection with the consumer who answered the phone to the sales representative or the debt collector. Sometimes, because this process is not instantaneous, and because people tend to hang up the phone after picking it up and hearing nothing, the auto-dialers may include a pre-recorded message saying something like "please stand by." When done on your cell phone, this alone is sufficient to violate the TCPA. Because this is almost certainly intentional, a violation like this can be worth up to $1,500 for every call!
If you're being harassed by robo-calls or by overzealous debt collectors, even if you do not suspect them of using auto-dialers (they almost always are, even if it may be hard to detect), then a good foundation of evidence and documentation is gold for any eventual lawsuit or settlement negotiation. To get it started, I suggest that you do the following:
• First, revoke your consent to be called. Simply saying "do not call me" is usually sufficient to invoke the TCPA's protection.
• Answer every call you receive, if possible. You do not need to engage them in conversation. Simply picking up, listening for five seconds, then hanging up is sufficient.
• Create a phone log of every call you receive. Open up Excel or a similar spreadsheet program on the computer (or create a spreadsheet-styled document with pen and paper) and record the following data for every call: the number calling, the time of the call, whether any automated or pre-recorded voices are heard during the call, and the identity of the caller, if known.
• If you receive any voicemails, save them all. If you know how to upload them to a computer for easier access, do so. If you aren't a technically-inclined type of person, that's okay; Murado Law, P.A. is able to assist with these technological matters.
• At the end of each day, try to take pictures or screenshots of your cell phone or caller ID's screen listing the phone numbers that called you.
If a debt collector, debt buyer, telemarketer, or individual person violates the TCPA, you may be entitled to money damages.