If a debt collector does not have the prior consent of the consumer or the express permission of a court, or the communication is not reasonably necessary to collect on a judgment, a debt collector cannot communicate with the consumer’s friends or family more than one time, for the very limited purpose of obtaining the consumer’s contact information. This same rule is incorporated into California’s Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
Attempting to acquire “location information,” as it is referred to in the FDCPA, exposes the collector to a number of potential problems. What if the recipient of the call says, “Who’s this? Why do you want to know?” The FDCPA says that the collector can only identify himself, state that he is confirming or correcting location information concerning the consumer, and, only if expressly requested, identify his employer. In any conversation, the collector absolutely cannot state that the consumer owes any debt. But collectors often do by telling the friend or family that the consumer must call them to avoid repossession, a lawsuit, etc.
What if the recipient of the call says, “I have no clue where John Doe [the alleged debtor] is.” The debt collector cannot call that person back unless (1) the person says to, or (2) the debt collector reasonably believes that the person’s response is erroneous or incomplete and that the person now has correct or complete location information. Nearly every debt collector who calls more than once will try to claim that they reasonably believed the person was lying or giving incomplete information. Even if the collector can get over that hurdle, and they usually cannot, the collector must show that he also reasonably believed that the person had updated correct or complete location information. Remember, a reasonable belief is not just that you thought about it one day…there must be a basis for the belief.
No matter what, in seeking location information, debt collectors cannot not communicate by post card, or use any language or symbol on any envelope or in the contents of any letter that indicates that the debt collector is in the debt collection business or that the communication relates to the collection of a debt. Since the collector’s name generally has “recovery” or a similar term in its name, letters seeking location information almost always violate the federal and state fair debt collection laws.
Finally, a debt collector cannot communicate with anyone (not even the consumer) if the collector knows the consumer is represented by an attorney with regard to the subject debt. The debt collector must direct all communications to the lawyer.