In many ways, life has become easier and more convenient for consumers in the past few decades. However, with the growth of e-commerce, online shopping, digital banking, and the increase in identity theft and scams, consumers need more protection than ever before. Congress has passed several laws to ensure consumer rights and responsibilities are established and protected.
The federal government created three important acts to protect consumers in credit reporting, credit billing, and debt collection situations. These consumer protection laws are:
At the Financial Justice Initiative, we deal with these laws every day and we know they can be confusing. In this article, we’ll review each Act and explain who is covered, possible violations, important timeframes, and available remedies.
If you use credit, you have a credit report. Credit reporting agencies (CRAs) gather credit information from sources like banks, credit card companies, loan companies, employers, landlords, and other creditors that are known as “information furnishers.”
The FCRA covers consumers, CRAs, and information furnishers. As a consumer, you should review your credit report regularly and promptly report any errors, misstatements, or unauthorized debts directly to the CRA.
If you report an error to a CRA, the agency and information furnisher must investigate to verify the information. The investigation must happen within a certain timeframe and the findings must be reported within three days of completing the investigation. If there is an error, they must correct it.
The credit bureau or information furnisher can violate the FCRA by failing to:
If you can prove a violation of the FCRA, you may be entitled to:
The FCRA statute of limitations (the window of opportunity for someone to file a lawsuit under the statute) is two years from the date of the violation. However, the rules are complicated and it’s best to consult with an experienced FCRA lawyer before your time runs out.
If you find an error or unauthorized charge in your credit card statement or another open-ended line of credit, you must report the problem to the creditor to be protected under the FCBA.
Consumers who have open-ended credit lines such as credit cards, department store cards, or home equity lines of credit and the creditors who offer these types of credit arrangements.
If you discover a charge you don’t recognize, notify your creditor within 60 days of the date of the statement that showed the charge. The creditor must then acknowledge your dispute in writing and investigate the circumstances.
If there is an error or an unauthorized transaction, the creditor must correct the error or clear the transfer. If the creditor decides there is no error, it must let you know in writing and explain the basis for the decision.
A creditor can violate the FCBA if it doesn’t:
Also, if the creditor takes some action to harm your credit during the investigation, it violates the FCBA.
If you can prove an FCBA violation, you are eligible to receive actual damages, statutory damages up to $5,000, and possibly punitive damages. The violator will also be responsible for your attorney’s fees and costs.
Legal action under the FCBA must be filed within one year but calculating the start date is complicated. An FCBA attorney at the Financial Justice Initiative can determine your specific deadline.
The FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from using harassment, deception, or abusive methods when trying to collect a debt from a consumer.
This Act does not apply to original creditors, such as your doctor or furniture dealer. Only third-party debt collectors, including collection agencies or companies that buy debt, are covered by the FDCPA. All consumers who deal with debt collectors are protected. Also, business debts are not covered. Only consumer debt falls under the FDCPA.
As a consumer, you do not have to tolerate debt collection actions such as:
In addition to avoiding the collection tactics mentioned above, debt collectors must also supply specific, detailed disclosures when collecting a debt. If a debt collector does not provide the necessary information or acts in any way prohibited by the FDCPA, it’s a violation.
Often, debt collection agencies pursue mass collection actions using form documents with errors or misstatements to trick debtors into paying more than they owe. The Financial Justice Initiative is a national team of top consumer class action lawyers that has successfully resolved several FDCPA class-action cases and protected thousands of consumers.
You are entitled to actual damages, statutory damages up to $1,000, and payment of your attorney’s fees and costs if you can prove that a debt collector violated the FDCPA.
FDCPA complaints must be filed within one year of the date of the offense. Deciding when an offense occurs can be complicated. An FJI lawyer will listen to your story and help calculate when you must file your complaint.
This article is just a brief explanation of three of the major consumer protection laws. Your situation is unique, and the details of your story are extremely important to decide which laws and what remedies may apply. Sometimes more than one statute covers a situation and the only way to protect your rights is to work with a skilled consumer protection lawyer.
Be warned, most attorneys don’t understand the intricacies of these laws and don’t have the legal knowledge and experience to properly handle a case under these statutes. At the Financial Justice Initiative, consumer protection is all we do. We are passionate about protecting consumers from companies that ignore consumer rights and responsibilities.
To schedule a free, no-obligation case consultation with one of our dedicated attorneys, call (206) 775-7310 or fill out this simple form now.