Hopefully you will never be put into a position where a debt collector contacts you. For people who are contacted by a debt collector, there are some things you can do to stop the harassing phone calls.
First, make sure you ask for a record of the debt owed. Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), every collector must send you a written “validation notice” telling you how much money you owe within five days after they first contact you. This notice also must include the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money, and how to proceed if you don’t think you owe the money. Also make sure you tell them you know your rights under the FDCPA. It is kind of like garlic to a vampire. It will keep the collectors at bay.
From the FDCPA web site,
If you decide after contacting the debt collector that you don’t want the collector to contact you again, tell the collector – in writing – to stop contacting you. Here’s how to do that:
Make a copy of your letter. Send the original by certified mail, and pay for a “return receipt” so you’ll be able to document what the collector received. Once the collector receives your letter, they may not contact you again, with two exceptions: a collector can contact you to tell you there will be no further contact or to let you know that they or the creditor intend to take a specific action, like filing a lawsuit. Sending such a letter to a debt collector you owe money to does not get rid of the debt, but it should stop the contact. The creditor or the debt collector still can sue you to collect the debt.
[Clark Howard provides a short stop the harassment letter template on his web site.]
What practices are off limits for debt collectors?
Harassment. Debt collectors may not harass, oppress, or abuse you or any third parties they contact. For example, they may not:
- use threats of violence or harm;
- publish a list of names of people who refuse to pay their debts (but they can give this information to the credit reporting companies);
- use obscene or profane language; or
- repeatedly use the phone to annoy someone.
False statements. Debt collectors may not lie when they are trying to collect a debt. For example, they may not:
- falsely claim that they are attorneys or government representatives;
- falsely claim that you have committed a crime;
- falsely represent that they operate or work for a credit reporting company;
- misrepresent the amount you owe;
- indicate that papers they send you are legal forms if they aren’t; or
- indicate that papers they send to you aren’t legal forms if they are.
Debt collectors also are prohibited from saying that:
- you will be arrested if you don’t pay your debt;
- they’ll seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages unless they are permitted by law to take the action and intend to do so; or
- legal action will be taken against you, if doing so would be illegal or if they don’t intend to take the action.
Debt collectors may not:
- give false credit information about you to anyone, including a credit reporting company;
- send you anything that looks like an official document from a court or government agency if it isn’t; or
- use a false company name.
Unfair practices. Debt collectors may not engage in unfair practices when they try to collect a debt. For example, they may not:
- try to collect any interest, fee, or other charge on top of the amount you owe unless the contract that created your debt – or your state law – allows the charge;
- deposit a post-dated check early;
- take or threaten to take your property unless it can be done legally; or
- contact you by postcard.
The only time I had the privilege of talking to a debt collector was when they were trying to trick me into getting a neighbor to call them. They said there was a family emergency for the neighbor, but they did not have a current phone number, just an address, adn wanted me to get the neighbor to call them back at a number they gave me. I knew this was a debt collector who was lying to me, so I lied back and said I would contact the neighbor. Then walked away from the phone.
My wife overheard and asked what if it was a valid call. I said I didn’t think so. She called the collector back just in case they had been telling the truth. Within less than a minute, she said they started swearing at her when she told them we would not contact the neighbor without more proof that it was a family emergency. Just goes to show the types of people that most debt collectors are.
Have you ever been harassed by debt collectors? If so, how did you get them to stop?