Your phone rings. The caller ID number is not familiar, but you answer. A harsh voice announces he is a debt collector and demands you authorize a payment of hundreds of dollars on the spot. Do you know your debtor rights?
What do you do?
First of all, don’t panic!
Personal debt is a big business. Maybe you have unpaid bills from school, medical bills or credit cards. Some debts may be so old you’ve forgotten about them. These may not even be collectable. A professional debt collector may have scooped them up in a package he bought and is trying to scare you into paying.
And even if the debts are legitimate, you still have rights that protect you.
The 1977 The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits many strong-arm debt collection tactics. The act only covers consumer debt, not business debt.
If you get a call, first make sure it’s not a scam.
How to Spot Fake Debt Collectors
A fake debt collector may ask you to repay a debt you don’t recognize. It can refuse to give you its mailing address or phone number. The caller can try to scare you into paying by threatening to report you to law enforcement or have you arrested.
First, demand validation information to prove the debt is yours. The law requires debt collectors to give you this information — either over the phone or in writing. Validation includes:
The amount of the debt
The name of the current creditor
How to get the name of the original creditor if the debt has been sold
If you don’t recognize the debt:
Get the name of the collector and the collection company, its address, and phone number.
Check with the original creditor. Is the debt yours? Did the creditor sell the debt or hire a company to collect it? If so, is the caller their collector?
Dispute the debt. If you think you don’t owe some — or all — of the debt, dispute it with the collector by mail or online. Even if you have obtained validation information.
Don’t respond to threats. If scammers threaten to arrest you, suspend your driver’s license, or call your employer if you don’t pay immediately, hang up and report the collector to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.
Collectors cannot call you at any time or place.
They can’t contact you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. If they’re told you’re not allowed to get calls at work, they cannot call you there.
You Can Stop a Debt Collector from Calling:
You can send a letter by mail – certified with return receipt is best –asking for contact to stop.
Once the collector gets your letter, it can only contact you to confirm it will stop contacting you, or to alert you that a specific action, like filing a lawsuit, will be taken.
You can hire an attorney. Once you inform the collector, the collector must communicate with your attorney, not you.
Debt collectors are not permitted to harass you.
Threatening to hurt you
Using obscene or profane language
Repeatedly call you
Collectors can’t lie by
Telling you that you owe a different amount than what you actually owe
Pretending to be an attorney or from the government
Telling you that you’ll be arrested, or claim they’ll take legal action against you if it’s not true
Statute of Limitations
Debt collectors are only allowed to sue you and win to collect a debt for a number of years. This statute of limitations usually begins when you fail to make a payment. Once it’s over, your unpaid debt is considered “time-barred:” it still exists, but the collector cannot sue you to get payment.
If you can, the best solution is to settle the debt. Some collectors will accept a reduced amount to settle a debt. Before you make any payments, get a signed form or letter from the collector that says the amount you’re paying settles the entire debt and releases you from further obligation.
So when a debt collector calls, don’t panic, know your rights and stand your ground!