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Updated on Author: Contributor: Sergei Lemberg

Can a Debt Collector Tell Others About Your Debt?

The FDCPA clearly prohibits debt collectors from revealing information about your debt to third parties. This is to eliminate the element of public shaming that has historically infused the process of debt collection, culminating in the establishment of debtor’s prisons in earlier centuries. We no longer imprison people for having debts, nor do we want to shame and embarrass people who have debts in a manner that is counterproductive to debts being paid off, for instance, making it difficult for consumers to be employed. Therefore, the FDCPA forbids disclosing a debt to third parties with two exceptions, when the debtor is a minor, or when they are deceased.

Communications to third parties regarding debts is addressed by a federal statute, 15 U.S.C. 1692 C (b) which states, in part: Except as provided in section 1692b of this title, without the prior consent of the consumer given directly to the debt collector, or the express permission of a court of competent jurisdiction, or as reasonably necessary to effectuate a postjudgment judicial remedy, a debt collector may not communicate, in connection with the collection of any debt, with any person other than the consumer, his attorney, a consumer reporting agency if otherwise permitted by law, the creditor, the attorney of the creditor, or the attorney of the debt collector.

Who Are Debt Collectors Allowed to Contact?

The FDCPA was established, in part, to remove the element of shame pervading the process of debt collection by preventing debt collectors from embarrassing and humiliating consumers. 11 U.S.C. Section 1692 (b) (c) established guidelines for debt collectors to follow when contacting third parties to achieve this end. These guidelines allow a debt collector to discuss the debt with the following parties:

  • The consumer
  • The consumer’s attorney
  • The creditor
  • The creditor’s attorney
  • The debt collector’s attorney
  • A credit bureau, in some cases

Who Can Debt Collectors NOT Contact?

The FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from spreading news about your debt to friends, neighbors,  coworkers and relatives in furtherance of its end to stop pressuring consumers to pay debts through public shaming. The exceptions include:

  • The consumer’s spouse, in some states
  • If the consumer is a minor, their parents
  • The consumer’s guardian
  • The executor or administrator for the consumer if they are deceased
  • The cosigner for the consumer’s debt

What About Misdirected Communications Such as Voicemails, Letters, etc?

Courts have held that letters that are addressed to the consumer but are sent to the wrong address do not violate the FDCPA. Their reasoning is that since the letter is addressed to the consumer, it is reasonable to assume they should be the only one opening it. Therefore, a misaddressed communication does not qualify as disclosure to a third party under their rules. 

Can A Debt Collector Leave Me A Message?

Yes, under certain circumstances, a debt collector can leave a message on a consumer’s voicemail if they have been given permission to do so, which is usually in the fine print of the original contract the consumer signed with the debtor, and the voicemail is clearly identifiable as belonging only to the consumer. However, if these conditions are not met, then the debtor must assume the answering machine/voicemail is accessible to more than the consumer and can be considered a third party disclosure of the debt. The debt collector is required to hang up and call back at another time to reach the consumer, or send the communication by mail.

Can A Debt Collector Get A Sample of My Signature Without My Consent?

  No, under no circumstances may a debt collector contact another party to get a sample of their signature without their consent.

 Can A Debt Collector Call My Parents?

Yes, if the debtor is a minor. If the debtor is an adult, the debt collector may not tell their parents that they have a debt. However, debt collectors may ask the parents of a debtor (for instance, a college student) if they are financially responsible for them. Yet they still may not reveal that the child has a debt.

Can A Debt Collector Contact U.S.Customs and Immigration Services and Tell Them I Have a Debt? (USCIS)

No, they may not contact USCIS and tell them a resident alien has an outstanding debt. They may, however, contact USCIS for information on how to locate the consumer to collect the debt.

Can A Debt Collector Use My Credit Card To Pay My Debt Without My Consent?

No, courts have ruled that debt collectors cannot contact credit card agencies and provide them with the consumer’s information in order to access their credit card to pay off their debts.

How Can I Fight Back Against Third Party Communications?

If a debt collector has violated the rules and standards set by the FDCPA governing third party communications, you can fight back by suing the debt collector in federal court. If you win, you can recover up to $1,000 as well as attorney fees and court costs.


About the author:

Contributor: Sergei Lemberg

Sergei Lemberg is a consumer rights attorney, practicing since 2006, whose practice focuses on consumer law, class actions and personal injury litigation. He is known for a United States Supreme Court case (Facebook v. Duguid) defending consumers from autodialers under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 to send unsolicited text messages. He is also the author of Defanging Debt Collectors, a book that teaches consumers how to battle debt collectors and win.

See more posts from Contributor: Sergei Lemberg
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