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Law Firms as Collection Agencies?

We have previously mentioned several deceptive and harassing techniques used by over-zealous creditors in their efforts to collect on a debt. Though these practices can come from any type of creditor, we see them most often employed by debt collection agencies. We know that creditors may utilize the help of a collection agency to recover a consumer debt. In much the same way, collection agencies may in turn seek help in collecting the debt from an attorney or law firm. Receiving a collection letter from a law firm can be confusing, as it may lead the consumer to believe that the collection agency is pursuing some type of legal action against them. This is not always the case.

FCCPA 559.72(11) states: “In collecting consumer debts, no person shall: communicate with a debtor under the guise of an attorney by using the stationary of an attorney or forms or instruments that only attorneys are authorized to prepare.”

It is important to note that this does not mean an attorney cannot be involved in the collections process. A law firm may assist in collecting a debt, but if they do they are subject to the same rules and restrictions as any other creditor or collection agency. (See our previous postings regarding abusive and harassing debt collection tactics and your rights as a consumer in debt collection.) There are also a few special rules for law firms acting as collection agencies.

Both Federal and State law require that any time the law firm sends a collection letter to the consumer regarding the debt, they must be clear that they are acting only as a debt collector. This rule exists because collection agencies know that a letter from an attorney is more likely to frighten the consumer into paying the debt than a letter from a collection agency would be. With that knowledge, some collection agencies associate themselves with an attorney or a law firm, and use that attorney’s letterhead and signature to send out their collection letters.

The problem with this practice is that the consumer receiving correspondence on law firm letterhead with an attorney’s signature at the bottom will often assume that an actual attorney has reviewed and formed an opinion on the case. However, a closer inspection of such letters will usually reveal that no attorney has so much as heard the consumer’s name. Instead, the collection agency sent out a pre-written letter on the attorney’s behalf. In Florida, this practice is a prohibited type of creditor harassment. Creditors or law firms participating in these deceptions have been required to pay monetary damages to the consumer for violating their rights under Federal and State laws.

Due to the harsh punishment involved with violating such rules, Florida courts look at a variety of factors in determining whether a collection letter from a law firm is misleading or harassing. Here are some important items to look for if you receive a communication from a law firm regarding a debt:

  1. Is the letter printed on law firm letterhead?
  2. Is the letter signed by an attorney?
  3. Does the letter clearly state that it is an attempt to collect a debt?
  4. Does the letter contain all the disclosures required of a debt collection letter?
  5. Does the letter state that an attorney has reviewed your file?
  6. Does the letter threaten to take some sort of legal action if you fail to pay within a specified period of time?

If you receive a confusing collection letter from an attorney or law firm regarding a debt, contact the experienced consumer debt collection and harassment attorneys at Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA. Our creditor harassment attorneys are familiar with both the Federal Debt Collection Practices Act as well as the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act. We know your rights as a consumer and we know how to deal with collection agencies and other creditors who violate those rights. For serious assistance in dealing with harassing debt collectors, please contact our office at 727-451-6900 for more information.