Can a debt collector call my friends and family about my debt?

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act generally forbids collection calls to friends and family. In fact, collection calls to most third-parties are illegal. There are some exceptions to this general rule, though. Here's what you need to know if a debt collector is talking to someone else about your debt.

The FDCPA only applies to "debt collectors" collecting "consumer debts"

The FDCPA only covers a debt collector that is collecting a debt for someone else. It does not apply to a creditor collecting its own debts. So if the calls are from a bank or credit card company that is collecting its own debts, the FDCPA doesn't apply. But the FDCPA does apply to collection agencies, debt buyers, and law firms who are collecting debts for someone else.

In addition, the FDCPA only applies when the debt being collected is a consumer debt. This is a debt used for personal, family, or household purposes. If the debt was incurred for a business, the FDCPA doesn't apply.

The FDCPA generally prohibits a debt collector from "communicating" with a third party

Under the FDCPA, a debt collector "may not communicate, in connection with the collection of any debt, with any person other than the consumer..." Although this language seems straightforward, it's important to understand what it means to "communicate" under the FDCPA. The Act defines "communication" as the conveying of information about a debt. So a missed call to your boyfriend, without a voicemail, is probably not a communication. But if the collector leaves your boyfriend a message or actually talks to him, it's likely to be considered a communication for the purpose of the FDCPA.

Communications with certain third parties are allowed

There are a couple of exceptions to the general prohibition against collection calls to friends and family. For example, the FDCPA allows a debt collector to communicate with a couple of different people without violating the law. These people include:

  • your attorney

  • the debt collector's attorney

  • the creditor (ie. the debt collector's client)

  • the creditor's attorney

  • a credit reporting agency, if otherwise allowed by law (ie. Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, etc);

A collector may also communicate with your employer if it's reasonably necessary to enforce a court judgment. For example, the FDCPA allows a debt collector to call your employer and confirm that you work there so that they can garnish your wages.

A collector may also communicate with a third-party to learn your contact information

Another exception to the general rule against third-party communications is the "location information" exception. The FDCPA allows debt collectors to place collection calls to friends and family to learn your location information. Location information is your address and phone number. But this call is strictly regulated:

  • the collector must identify himself and tell your friend that he is confirming your location information;

  • the collector can't identify his employer unless your friend asks;

  • the collector can't tell your friend that you owe a debt or discuss the details of the debt;

  • in most cases, the collector can't ask your friend to have you call the collector back;

  • in most cases, the collector only gets to make this "location information" call one time

It also follows that if the collector already knows your address and phone number, then it can't call a third-party for your location information.

If collection calls to friends and family are illegal, why do collectors do it?

Although it violates the FDCPA, many debt collectors use this tactic because it's profitable. If you're like most people, you're understandably embarrassed by not being able to make ends meet. It's stressful enough to suffer this embarrassment privately. But when a debt collector tells your friend or family member that you aren't paying your bills, your private embarrassment quickly turns into semi-public humiliation. Debt collectors know this and use the third-party calls to put pressure on you to make a payment. Debt collectors also know that most consumers don't know about their rights under the FDCPA, so there is little chance that the consumer will do anything about the illegal third party calls. Rather than paying the debt collector to make the third party calls stop, it may be best to discuss your situation with a consumer lawyer. Paying the shady debt collector will only encourage him to keep breaking the law. But a consumer lawyer can help you hold the debt collector accountable by bringing a FDCPA lawsuit on your behalf. After being sued for violating the FDCPA, most debt collectors will think twice about violating it again.