At some point in your life you may be on the receiving end of a debt collection phone call. More often than not, these calls are either fraud or in error, or may be due to some other unforeseen circumstance. Whatever the reason, what everyone should know is that there are strict rules in the U.S. that forbid any kind of harassment. By knowing your rights, you can deal with these situations with minimum hassle. Here are some suggestions.
- Ask for non-threatening transparency. When a debt collector calls, they must be transparent about who they are. The magic words they must utter are:
This is an attempt to collect a debt, and any information obtained will be used for that purpose.
Debt collectors can’t use abusive or threatening language, or threaten you with fines or jail time. The most a debt collector can truthfully threaten you with is that failing to pay will harm your credit rating, or that they may sue you in civil court to extract payment.
- Be cautious about potential fraud. Before anything, confirm the caller is legitimate. Too often thieves pose as debt collectors to find unsuspecting victims. Never provide information to the company, and do not confirm any information provided by them. Ask for copies of any disputed charges be sent to you via mail. They should already know your address.
- Know the contact rules. Debt collectors must call between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. local time. They may try to call you at work, but they must stop if you tell them that you cannot receive calls there. Debt collectors may not talk to anyone else about your debt (other than your attorney, if you have one), but they may try contacting other people, such as relatives, neighbors or employers. This must be solely for the purpose of trying to find out your phone number, address or where you work.
- Take action. If you believe the debt is in error – in whole or in part – you can send a dispute letter to the collection agency within 30 days of first contact. Ask the collector for their mailing address and let them know you are filing a dispute. They will have to cease all collection activities until they send you legal documentation verifying the debt.
- Tell them to stop. And whether you dispute the debt or not, you can send a cease letter to the collection agency at any time telling them to stop making contact. You don’t need to provide a specific reason. They will have to stop contact after this point, though they may still decide to pursue legal options in civil court.
- Take good notes. Consider keeping a file of all letters and documents, along with notes detailing dates and times of conversations and what was discussed. These notes and records can help you in the event that you need to meet with an attorney or go to court.
If a debt collection agency is not following these rules, you can report them to your state’s attorney general office. Also consider filing a complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.