Washington Collection Agencies Law

by ECL Writer
Washington Collection Agencies Law

Navigating the world of debt collection can be overwhelming, leaving many consumers vulnerable to aggressive tactics and unfair treatment. Recognizing the importance of protecting consumer rights and ensuring ethical debt collection practices, the state of Washington has implemented a comprehensive framework governing the actions of collection agencies.

The Washington Collection Agencies Law (WCAA) stands as a robust shield against abusive debt collection practices, providing vital safeguards for debtors throughout the state.

In this article, eastcoastlaws.com delve into the core tenets of the Washington Collection Agencies Law, exploring how it curtails harassment, ensures transparency, and establishes a fair playing field for both debtors and creditors.

By shedding light on the rights and responsibilities outlined within the WCAA, we aim to empower consumers with the knowledge they need to confront any violations confidently and take informed actions against unlawful debt collection practices.

Debt Collectors Must Get a License to Collect in Washington

Washington state law mandates that debt collectors must obtain a license from the Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL) and furnish a bond before engaging in debt collection activities. The license needs to be renewed annually to continue operating lawfully.

Additionally, out-of-state debt collectors intending to collect debts from Washington residents must also comply with this requirement, necessitating them to acquire a valid license from the DOL. This legal framework is in place to safeguard consumers from potentially abusive or unfair debt collection practices and to ensure that debt collectors adhere to ethical standards when pursuing debts.

By imposing licensing and bonding obligations, the state aims to maintain transparency and accountability within the debt collection industry, ultimately protecting the rights and interests of Washington residents. (Wash. Rev. Code § 19.16.110)

Who Is Considered a Debt Collector Under Washington Law?

Under Washington state law, a “debt collector” is defined as any person, individual, partnership, corporation, or entity engaged in the business of collecting or attempting to collect debts owed or due to another. This definition includes both third-party debt collectors and individuals or entities collecting debts on behalf of others.

According to the Washington Collection Agency Act (Wash. Rev. Code § 19.16), a debt collector is someone who uses any means, directly or indirectly, to engage in debt collection. This includes contacting debtors through phone calls, letters, emails, or other communication methods to collect outstanding debts.

It’s essential to note that even creditors attempting to collect debts on their own behalf may also be subject to certain provisions of the Collection Agency Act if they use tactics typically associated with debt collectors, such as using a different business name or pretending to be a separate debt collection agency. (Wash. Rev. Code § 19.16.100)

Understanding the definition of a debt collector is crucial for both consumers to know their rights and for those engaging in debt collection activities to ensure compliance with Washington state law.

Prohibited Collection Activities Under Washington Law

Washington law places restrictions on the techniques debt collectors can employ to collect debts as well as how they can interact with you and other parties. Additionally, it grants you particular rights if you want to contest the legitimacy of a debt. As you read this part, keep in mind that although this section only addresses Washington law, debt collectors must abide by both Washington’s rules and the FDCPA’s requirements.

A Collector Must Provide Specific Information Upon First Contact

  • The amount of the debt: The collector must specify the total amount owed, including any interest or fees that may apply.
  • The name of the creditor: The collector must disclose the name of the original creditor to whom the debt is owed.
  • The consumer’s rights: The debt collector must inform the consumer of their right to dispute the debt’s validity within 30 days of receiving the initial notice.
  • Verification request: The collector must notify the consumer that they can request verification of the debt, and if such a request is made within the 30-day period, the collector must provide written verification of the debt.
  • Address for disputes: The collector must provide an address where the consumer can send disputes regarding the debt.

A Collector Can’t Communicate With Anyone Else or Threaten to Do So

Only you (or your attorney) or those responsible for the debt can be contacted by a debt collector. Typically, it is unable to communicate with outside parties. However, it has the ability to submit your debt to a credit bureau. If the debt collector is unable to locate you, it may also get in touch with your employer or other parties who may be able to help. (Washington Revised Code, 19.16.250).

A Collector Can’t Threaten or Harass You

You cannot be harassed, threatened, intimidated, or embarrassed by a debt collector. This ban includes contacting you too frequently or at odd hours. If a debt collector phones you at work more than once a week or three times per week, Washington law presumes that you are being harassed.

If a collector approaches you between 7:30 a.m. and 9:00 p.m., that is also seen as harassment. (Remember that calls made before 8:00 a.m. are subject to the FDCPA’s regulations.) (Washington Revised Code, 19.16.250).

Additionally, a debt collector is not permitted to threaten legal action against you unless it has the right to do so at the moment the threat is made. For instance, a debt collector cannot threaten to garnish your pay without first filing a lawsuit and winning the case. (Washington Revised Code, 19.16.250).

A Collector Can’t Mislead You Into Thinking It Works for the Police or Another Government Agency

A debt collector is not allowed to imply that they are affiliated with the police or any other governmental body. According to Washington state law, debt collectors are not allowed to dress in outfits that resemble police uniforms or display any kind of badge.

A Collector Can’t Excessively Contact You Via Cellphone

If a debt collector knows they are contacting you on a cellphone, they are not allowed to call or text you more than twice a day. If the collector updates its records at least monthly, uses a number that is not on the most current list, and doesn’t otherwise know or reasonably should know that the number is for a cellphone, the communication isn’t illegal under this statute.

Debt Validation and Verification Requirements

In Washington, debt validation and verification requirements are important consumer protections established to ensure that individuals are treated fairly and accurately when dealing with debt collectors.

When a debt collector first contacts a consumer to collect a debt, they must provide specific information to validate and verify the debt’s legitimacy, as mandated by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and the Washington Collection Agency Act (Wash. Rev. Code § 19.16).

  • The amount of the debt: The collector must state the total amount owed, including any interest or fees.
  • The name of the creditor: The collector must disclose the name of the original creditor to whom the debt is owed.
  • Consumer’s rights: The notice should inform the consumer of their right to dispute the debt’s validity within 30 days of receiving the initial notice.
  • Verification request: If the consumer disputes the debt’s validity in writing within the 30-day period, the collector must provide written verification of the debt, such as a copy of the original contract or other supporting documents.
  • Address for disputes: The collector must provide an address where the consumer can send disputes regarding the debt.

These requirements aim to prevent collectors from engaging in deceptive or harassing practices and provide consumers with the opportunity to verify the debt’s accuracy. If the debt collector fails to adhere to these obligations, consumers may have grounds to challenge the debt’s validity and seek legal remedies. Understanding these validation and verification requirements empowers consumers to protect their rights when dealing with debt collectors in Washington.

Other Prohibited Debt Collector Actions

  • Harassment or abuse: Debt collectors cannot engage in any conduct that harasses, oppresses, or abuses the debtor. This includes using threats, profane language, or repeatedly contacting the debtor with the intention of causing annoyance or distress.
  • False or misleading representations: Debt collectors cannot make false or misleading statements while attempting to collect a debt. This includes misrepresenting the amount owed, the legal status of the debt, or the consequences of non-payment.
  • Unfair practices: Debt collectors are not allowed to use unfair practices when collecting a debt. This includes attempting to collect fees or charges that are not authorized by law, depositing postdated checks prematurely, or communicating with third parties about the debt without the debtor’s permission, except as permitted by law.
  • Contacting debtors at inconvenient times or places: Debt collectors cannot contact debtors at unreasonable hours, typically before 8 am or after 9 pm, unless the debtor agrees otherwise. Additionally, debt collectors must avoid contacting debtors at their place of work if the employer prohibits such communications.
  • Misrepresentation of identity: Debt collectors must clearly identify themselves when contacting a debtor and may not pretend to be someone else or a government official.
  • Threatening legal action they cannot or do not intend to take: Debt collectors cannot threaten legal action if they do not have the legal authority or intention to take such action.
  • Continuing communication after a written request to cease: If a debtor sends a written request to the debt collector to stop communication, the collector must comply with this request, except to provide legal notices or certain specified communications.

What You Can Do If a Debt Collector Violates Washington Law

  • Document the violation: Keep detailed records of all communication with the debt collector, including dates, times, names, and what was said or done. Gather any evidence, such as letters, voicemails, or text messages, that demonstrate the violation.
  • Send a written dispute: If the debt collector is attempting to collect a debt that you believe is not valid or the amount is incorrect, you have the right to dispute the debt in writing. Send a certified letter to the debt collector, stating your dispute and requesting validation of the debt.
  • File a complaint with the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions: You can file a complaint with the state regulatory agency that oversees debt collectors. Provide them with all the relevant information about the violation, including your documentation.
  • Consult with an attorney: If you believe the debt collector’s actions are egregious or have caused significant harm, it may be wise to consult with a consumer rights attorney. They can provide guidance on your specific situation and advise you on how to proceed.
  • Pursue a private right of action: Under the Washington Collection Agency Act, consumers have the right to pursue private legal action against debt collectors who violate the law. If successful, you may be entitled to damages and attorney’s fees.
  • Report to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB): You can also file a complaint with the CFPB, a federal agency that oversees consumer financial services. They may investigate the complaint and take action against the debt collector if necessary.
  • Request debt verification: If you are uncertain about the validity of the debt or the collector’s authority to collect it, you can request debt verification in writing. The debt collector is obligated to provide verification, including information about the original creditor and the amount owed.

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