If a collector violates the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), that violation won’t eliminate your liability for the underlying debt. But you could file a lawsuit and, if you win the case, get money damages from the collector. Or you could also use the fact that the collector violated the law—and that you might file a lawsuit—as a bargaining tool to potentially reduce or get rid of the debt.
The FDCPA is the main federal law that protects consumers from aggressive, abusive, unfair, or deceptive debt collectors. Under the FDCPA, among other things, it’s against the law for a debt collector to:
When you incur a debt, you typically have a contractual obligation to repay it. Even if the debt collector breaks the law when trying to collect from you, you’re still responsible for paying the debt—unless it's time-barred or invalid for some other reason.
But you might have some options for improving your situation when a collector violates the FDCPA.
If a debt collector violates the FDCPA, you may sue that collector in state or federal court. You can even sue in small claims court. You must do this within one year from the date on which the violation occurred.
If you win the suit, the judge can require the collector to compensate you for any actual damages you suffered and award statutory damages of up to $1,000 (even if you can’t prove that you suffered actual damages), plus attorneys' fees and costs. The court might also order the debt collector to stop engaging in certain collection activities.
Under the FDCPA, lawsuits alleging violations of the FDCPA must be brought “within one year from the date on which the violation occurs.” (15 U.S.C. § 1692k(d)). In the case of Rotkiske v. Klemm, 589 U.S. ___ (2019), the U.S. Supreme Court clarified that the one-year statute of limitations for an FDCPA violation begins to run when the alleged violation occurs, not when the offense is discovered, absent the application of an equitable doctrine.
Debt collectors don’t like FDCPA lawsuits. Lawsuits are expensive to defend and often result in a judgment against the debt collector. For this reason, you might be able to convince the collector that it would be more cost-effective to reduce or eliminate your debt rather than to defend its actions in court.
The CFPB will forward your complaint to the collector and assist you in resolving your complaint. It will also share information about your complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which might choose to sue the debt collector to curtail its illegal debt collection practices. Both the FTC and the CFPB enforce the FDCPA.
If you think a debt collector has violated the FDCPA when trying to collect a debt from you, consider talking to a debt settlement lawyer who can analyze your individual situation and advise you about your rights and options under the law.