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No, they cannot. That would be described as “overshadowing”. When a collector takes over a debt, they have to provide you with thirty (30) days in which to dispute the validity of the debt. This means that no demand for funds or payment can be made during that time.
If the collection agency is playing by the rules, then they will follow the provisions set out by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). This is a federal law that tightly regulates what third-party collectors can and cannot do. If you’ve never heard of the FDCPA, then you are like most Americans. But then the collection agencies are banking on the hope that you’ve never heard of it either (because many collectors do not take the time to follow the rules at all).
When a collector sends a letter for the first time, it must disclose certain things. Namely, it must provide you with a clear indication of your rights are regarding “validation”. That notification will usually come in the form of a boilerplate paragraph about two thirds of the way down on the front page of the letter (but sometimes they get clever and put it on the back). The language will read something like this: “Unless you notify this office within 30 days of receipt of this letter that you dispute the validity of the debt, then we will assume the debt is valid.”
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So the first thirty days after receiving the letter are reserved for you to request validation of the debt from the collector (i.e. demand that they prove the debt is actually yours, or that the amount listed is correct, or that the account number is correct, or whatever). In fact, the only thing that the collector should really do during this period is stay quiet (unless of course you request the aforementioned validation).
But what if during this 30 day period the collection agency demands money from you to go towards the very debt in question? This is a violation of the FDCPA. The rules state that if a collector has violated your rights, they have to pay you up to $1,000 and all of your attorney fees. This means that you won’t have to pay your attorney a single dime (because the collector has to pay those fees directly to your attorney on your behalf).
The affordable St. Louis bankruptcy attorneys at The Law Office of Jennifer Alter-Rieken have been saving and protecting people’s assets for years. Our goal is to make sure that you keep the assets and property you want, discharge the debts that you want to get rid of, and do it all at an affordable cost to you. All phone conversations and office consultations are free of charge.