Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, debt collectors have certain obligations when first communicating with a consumer about a debt.  The debt collector must provide certain information within five days of the initial contact with the consumer.  That information includes the amount of the debt and the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed. 

The debt collector must also provide certain statements within five days of the initial communication.  The following statements are required:

  1. A statement that the debt will be assumed to be valid by the debt collector unless the consumer, disputes the validity of the debt, or any portion thereof, the debt within thirty days after receipt of the notice;
  2. A statement that the debt collector will obtain verification of the debt or a copy of a judgment against the consumer and a copy of such verification or judgment will be mailed to the consumer by the debt collector if the consumer notifies the debt collector in writing within the thirty-day period that the debt, or any portion thereof, is disputed; and
  3. A statement that the debt collector will provide the consumer with the name and address of the original creditor if different from the current creditor upon the consumer’s written request within the thirty-day period.

Keep in mind that a communication in the form of a formal pleading in a civil action is not considered an “initial communication.”

Validating the Debt:

If the consumer notifies the debt collector in writing within the thirty-day period that the debt, or any portion thereof, is disputed, the debt collector must cease collection of the debt, or any disputed portion thereof, until the debt collector obtains verification of the debt.  The debt collector can satisfy this requirement by obtaining a copy of a judgment or other specific account information and mailing the information to the consumer.

Also, if the consumer has requested the name and address of the original creditor, the debt collector must cease collection of the debt, or any disputed portion thereof, until the debt collector obtains the name and address of the original creditor and that information is mailed to the consumer by the debt collector.

Debt collectors are allowed to proceed with lawful collection activity during the thirty day period prior to receipt of a dispute.  Any collection activities and communication during the thirty day period may not overshadow or be inconsistent with the disclosure of the consumer’s right to dispute the debt or request the name and address of the original creditor.

What happens if the consumer does not demand validation of the debt within the thirty day period?

If the consumer does not dispute the validity of the debt during the thirty day period, the debt collector may assume that the debt is valid for collection purposes.  However, the failure of a consumer to dispute the validity of a debt may not be construed by any court as an admission of liability by the consumer.

What does this mean?

When you are contacted by a debt collector in regard to a debt that you allegedly owe, it does not mean that the debt collector has access to the information necessary to validate the debt.  While some debt collectors have this information in advance of an initial contact, many debt collectors only attempt to validate a debt if the consumer requests during the thirty day period.  If the debt cannot be validated, the debt collector must cease additional collection activity.  Also, if a debt cannot be validated, the debt cannot be reported on your credit profile.

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