By Graham Nicol, Esq., Health Care Risk Manager, Florida Bar Board Certified Specialist (Health Law)
Q: In Florida, what is the definition of debt collection? If I have a patient who owes me $100 can we call that patient and ask for payment?
A: Chapter 559 regulates consumer debt collection. There is a difference between a “consumer collection agency” and a “creditor.” Consumer collection agencies must register with the state, but the registration requirement does not apply to “an original creditor.”
As a dentist extending credit for dental care either yourself or through your practice (i.e., not through a bank, credit card or financial services company like CareCredit), you are an original creditor, not a consumer collection agency. So, if a patient owes you a debt of $100 for services rendered or as a deductible, then you can, in general, call and ask for the money as a creditor.
However, no person — it doesn’t matter whether you are the original creditor or not — may do any of the following 19 prohibited acts when collecting consumer debt:
- Pretend to be law enforcement.
- Threaten force or violence.
- Disclose the existence of a disputed debt to another so as to affect credit worthiness.
- Threaten to tell the debtor’s employer that you are owed money by one of their employees.
- Provide information that you know is false.
- Disclose information about the debt without also disclosing that the debtor disputes owing it if you know that they do.
- Communicate with the debtor or his family with such frequency as to harass them.
- Use profane, obscene, vulgar or willfully abusive language.
- Attempt to collect a debt that you know is not legitimate or assert that you have legal rights that you know you don’t have (a lien on their property).
- Simulate the judicial process.
- Simulate that you are an attorney at law by using law firm stationery or instruments that only attorneys are authorized to prepare.
- Orally communicate with a debtor that you are an attorney or work for one.
- Advertise, or threaten to advertise, for sale a debt as a means to enforce payment unless you have legal authority to do so.
- Refuse to identify yourself when asked to by the debtor.
- Mail a bill in an envelope or postcard with words on the outside calculated to embarrass the debtor.
- Communicate with the debtor between the hours of 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. in the debtor’s time zone without the prior consent of the debtor.
- Communicate with a debtor if you know they are represented by an attorney.
- Cause a debtor to be charged for communications by collect telephone calls or telegram fees.
- Publish, or threaten to publish, individual names or any list of names of debtors, commonly known as a “deadbeat list,” to the public.
This blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional legal advice. If you have a specific concern or need legal advice regarding your dental practice, you should contact a qualified attorney.