WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today alerted District residents that they are protected from most types of debt collection actions during the COVID-19 emergency. New emergency protections proposed by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and passed by the Council on April 10, temporarily prohibit creditors and debt collectors from initiating, filing, or threatening new debt collection lawsuits, repossessing vehicles, or taking new action to garnish wages. Debt collectors are also prohibited from attempting to collect from consumers in person, and in many cases forbidden from initiating consumer contact of any kind. The temporary restrictions apply to non-mortgage consumer debts—including auto loans, credit card debt, and medical debt—and will remain in effect during the official state of emergency and for 60 days afterward.”
“The last thing that District residents who are experiencing financial hardship need is to be harassed by debt collectors,” said AG Racine. “I am grateful that the Council has passed legislation that restricts most debt collection actions until after this emergency is over. Any resident who believes they are being treated unfairly by a debt collector should contact the Office of the Attorney General for help.”
According to a 2018 estimate, about 71 million Americans have debt in collections. Now, millions of people have lost jobs and that number is likely much higher. In the District alone, more than 81,000 District residents have applied for unemployment benefits since the start of the COVID-19 emergency because of job loss or reductions in hours. To protect District residents amid the growing economic crisis, the Council passed the COVID-19 Response Supplemental Emergency Amendment Act of 2020 (Emergency Act). OAG successfully advocated for several key provisions in the Emergency Act, including consumer protections and prohibitions that apply to creditors or debt collectors.
During the state of emergency and for 60 days after the emergency ends, debt collectors are not allowed to:
- File any new collection lawsuits: Debt collectors and creditors cannot initiate or file any new collection lawsuits.
- Repossess vehicles or begin new actions to garnish wages: During the emergency, debt collectors are not allowed to repossess cars or other vehicles. They are also not allowed to threaten or begin new action to garnish or seize wages or property.
- Seek to collect debt from consumers at their home, workplace, or in public: To protect consumers from attempts to pressure or intimidate them during this time, debt collectors are prohibited from going to the homes and workplaces of people who owe debt for any reason during the emergency. They are also prohibited from confronting people who owe debt in public places.
- Threaten to take file lawsuits, repossess vehicles, or visit consumers: In addition to being prohibited from filing new lawsuits, beginning repossessions or garnishments, or confronting consumers in person, debt collectors are not allowed to threaten to do any of these things.
- Initiate contact with consumers: In most cases, debt collectors may not initiate any type of unsolicited debt collection communications by phone, text, or email.
Guidance for Businesses on Debt Collection
OAG issued a Frequently Asked Questions document on how it interprets the Emergency Act for enforcement purposes to provide clarity regarding the law’s debt collection provisions at: https://oag.dc.gov/consumer-protection/debt-collection-faqs
Report Illegal Debt Collection
If you believe a company is violating the emergency prohibitions on debt collection, or if you would like to report any other problem you are having with a business, please contact OAG’s Office of Consumer Protection by:
OAG’s COVID-19 Resources
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is teleworking until at least April 27. You can access OAG services online and over the phone during our telework period at:
- Website: oag.dc.gov
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and OAGCommunity@dc.gov
- Phone: (202) 727-3400
- Fax: (202) 347-8922
- TTY: (202) 727-3400
For updates from OAG on COVID-19, consumer tips, resources, and warnings:
- Sign up for OAG’s newsletter
- Bookmark and visit OAG’s Coronavirus Information Page
- Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram
Know Your Rights: Read OAG’s Consumer Alert—available in multiple languages—to protect yourself from scams, price gouging, discrimination, and to get information about consumer, worker, and tenant rights during the pandemic.
For more District Government updates about coronavirus, visit coronavirus.dc.gov