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When Debt Collectors Call, Know Your Rights

Say the wrong thing to a debt collector and you’ll make things worse.

I’m in a unique situation when it comes to knowing about how debt collectors operate. By virtue of what I do for a living, I hear at least a dozen stories of debt collection procedures each week, seen through the eyes of people who need my help.

It’s not often pretty, but more often than not I find myself wincing when someone tells me about the conversation.

There’s debt collection harassment to be sure. And my clients are experiencing financial hardships the likes of which most people can’t fathom.

But if people would only keep their rights in mind when the debt collectors call, things would be so much better.

Time And Place Of Debt Collection Calls

A debt collector can’t call you:

  1. at work if they know you’re not allowed to take non-work calls;
  2. once you let them know in writing that you not longer want them to call you;
  3. if you’re represented by a lawyer and they know how to reach that lawyer;
  4. at inconvenient times; or
  5. repeatedly (the original phone bombing).

Content Of Debt Collection Calls

A debt collector can’t:

  1. lie to you;
  2. threaten you with jail (unless that’s legal);
  3. threaten you with a lawsuit (unless they actually sue people for past due debts);
  4. call you names, threaten to harm your reputation, or use profane language;
  5. threaten to tell other people about your debt problems;
  6. make any false statements – including that they’re going to take your money or property; or
  7. misrepresent anything about the debt – including the amount due or the name of the creditor.

Are these the only things they can’t do? No, but you get the picture – they can’t lie, cheat or threaten you. Period.

What To Say And Do When A Debt Collector Calls

The key to a successful conversation with a debt collector is in remaining calm and rational. If you spin out of control, it’s not going to work.

With that in mind, here’s what to do:

  1. write down the date and time of the call;
  2. write down the name and phone number of the person who is calling you;
  3. write down the name of the debt collection agency and the agency’s reference number;
  4. write down the name of the original creditor to which you owe the money;
  5. ask if the debt has been transferred or sold and, if so, the name of that entity as well as their reference number if it differs from the account number;
  6. confirm and write down the amount claimed to be due.

From there, tell the debt collector that you will be requesting information from them with respect to the debt so that you are able to match it up with your records. Ask for a fax number to send your request, and be sure to write it down.

You should then send a letter to the debt collector specifically demanding that they cease all communications with you, and send it by fax. Keep the letter as well as a copy of the fax transmission sheet showing the date and time of delivery. This gives you the ability to control the means of collection rather than being on the defensive.

If there’s any doubt whatsoever as to the validity of the debt or the amount claimed, request validation and verification of the debt as well.

The Ball’s In Your Court

Now you’ve got all the information about the debt, and you demanded that the debt collector stop calling you.

That doesn’t mean you’re out of debt, though. It simply means you’ve got enough to go on, you’ve turned off the heat of collection calls, and you’re in control.

You can now set on creating a plan of attack to get rid of the bill problems. Investigate your options and act accordingly.

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By |July 11th, 2013|

About the Author:

I've been a consumer protection lawyer since 1995, working to help people end their bill problems. I'm a faculty member at the Student Loan Law Workshop, a nationally recognized speaker, and a long-time member of both the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys and National Association of Consumer Advocates.
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