2010-05-28 / Top Stories

New Collection Agency Regulations Enacted

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jonathan Mintz have announced new debt collection regulations designed to prevent New Yorkers from being harassed about debts they don’t owe – a problem that has grown since the onset of the national recession in late 2007. Collectors, armed with a list of debtors, routinely attempt to collect from anyone in the five boroughs with the same name as a person on the list, regardless of whether the debt belongs to that person. Under the new regulations, any debt collection agency attempting to collect a debt from a New Yorker must provide proof the debt is owed at the consumer’s request. The collector must provide a copy of the original debt documentation, a copy of the final account statement of the originating debt, a document itemizing the remaining amount due, including any additional fees or charges claimed to be due and the basis of the consumer’s obligation to pay them. Other provisions of the new regulations include disclosing the consumer’s rights regarding the statute of limitations, and providing written confirmation of the debt payment schedule or settlement within 21 days of the agreement. In addition, debt collection agencies must provide New Yorkers with a phone number that must be answered by a live operator and not an answering service.

“New Yorkers have long had strong protections when it comes to debt collection – in fact, the strongest local protections in the country,” said Bloomberg. “As the national recession worsened, exploitative debt collection schemes have become more brazen. Collectors get lists online and harass everyone with the same name on the list, putting every person they call on the defensive. The measures we are announcing today will help stop this rising tide of wrongful and financially harmful collection tactics, and protect New Yorkers from their often damaging consequences.”

During 2009, the City’s Department of Consumer Affairs erased more than $1 million in debt that New Yorkers didn’t legally owe but were pressed to pay anyway. Wrongful debt collection topped the list of complaints at DCA for the second year in a row and last year the City received more than 830 complaints against debt collectors. TOP 10 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT DEBT COLLECTION IN NEW YORK CITY

1. A debt collection agency cannot claim to represent a government agency. Debt collectors cannot make false claims that they are marshals, sheriffs or a District Attorney’s Office representative. They cannot threaten to arrest a consumer, report a consumer to immigration authorities or claim that a consumer has committed a crime.

2. Debt collectors cannot threaten to have consumers evicted.

3. A debt collection representative cannot threaten to take your money. Debt collectors cannot threaten to garnish wages, take the money from a consumer’s bank account, or take personal belongings without first obtaining a judgment against you in court.

4. A debt collection agency cannot threaten New Yorkers with violence. Debt collectors cannot engage in acts of violence, threats of violence, or obscene language.

5. Debt collectors cannot call too early, too late or too often. In New York City, debt collectors cannot call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. They also cannot call you more than twice a week if the collector has made contact with you.

6. Debt collectors cannot lie about the amount owed. A debt collection agency cannot claim the debt owed is greater than it is or claim a consumer owes the debt when they do not.

7. A debt collection agency must tell you that the statute of limitations for collecting the debt has expired.

8. A collection agency cannot reveal your debt to anyone but you. It is illegal for debt collectors to advertise a consumer’s debt or reveal it to anyone, including family members and neighbors.

WHAT TO DO IF A DEBT COLLECTION AGENCY CONTACTS YOU

• Check that the debt collection agency is licensed. Debt collection agencies must include their DCA license number in all letters sent to you. To verify if a debt collection agency is licensed, call 311 (212- NEW-YORK outside NYC) or search DCA’s Instant License Check, available online at nyc.gov/consumers.

• Check that the debt collection agency provided required information. By law, debt collection agencies must provide the following information in all communications to you: the name of the debt collection agency, the name of the original creditor, the amount of the debt, a callback number to a phone that is answered by a live person, and the name of that person. If your call is routed from the agency’s main telephone line, the live person qualified to handle your questions must answer the call within 60 seconds.

• Request in writing that a debt collector send you proof of the debt as soon as you are contacted by a debt collector. The documentation provided to you must include proof that you owe the debt from the original creditor and documents that show the total principal amount you owe and additional charges or fees incurred.

charges or fees incurred. • Confirm if you owe the debt by checking your credit report.

• Check how old the debt is. If the statute of limitations on the debt is expired, the collector must disclose this information to you, along with information about your legal rights. The statute of limitations is the period of time that a creditor or collector can sue you in court to collect the debt.

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