It’s Not OK to Call Someone a Deadbeat and 18 Other Things Dentists Need to Know About Debt Collection

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:

  1. Pretend to be law enforcement.
  2. Threaten force or violence.
  3. Disclose the existence of a disputed debt to another so as to affect credit worthiness.
  4. Threaten to tell the debtor’s employer that you are owed money by one of their employees.
  5. Provide information that you know is false.
  6. Disclose information about the debt without also disclosing that the debtor disputes owing it if you know that they do.
  7. Communicate with the debtor or his family with such frequency as to harass them.
  8. Use profane, obscene, vulgar or willfully abusive language.
  9. 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).
  10. Simulate the judicial process.
  11. Simulate that you are an attorney at law by using law firm stationery or instruments that only attorneys are authorized to prepare.
  12. Orally communicate with a debtor that you are an attorney or work for one.
  13. Advertise, or threaten to advertise, for sale a debt as a means to enforce payment unless you have legal authority to do so.
  14. Refuse to identify yourself when asked to by the debtor.
  15. Mail a bill in an envelope or postcard with words on the outside calculated to embarrass the debtor.
  16. 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.
  17. Communicate with a debtor if you know they are represented by an attorney.
  18. Cause a debtor to be charged for communications by collect telephone calls or telegram fees.
  19. 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.

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