Dealing with debt collectors

Q: I keep getting harrassing phone calls on my job from creditors. Is there anything I can do to prevent them from calling?
–Name Withheld, Brooklyn, New York

A: “You have the right to request a debt collector cease communication with you. Just send the request by certified or registered mail, so you will have proof it was received,” advises Mark Rosen, community relations manager of Credit Counseling Centers (800-547-5005), an organization that offers debt management assistance. Under the 1977 Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), once a collection agency receives your “cease-comm” letter, it must stop contacting you unless it is to inform you that it is terminating its efforts to collect the debt. A creditor is also in violation of the act if the company calls you at work when it knows it is against your employer’s policy; calls you prior to 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.; makes numerous phone calls to harass you; and reveals to anyone other than you, your spouse or your attorney that you owe money. Adds Rosen, “If [the creditor] continues calling, you have every right to hang up.”

If you feel your rights have been violated under the FDCPA, write your state attorney general’s office and include copies of all correspondence and a record of the phone calls. You should also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov). In addition, you can file a lawsuit against the creditor for up to $1,000, plus attorney’s fees, within one year of the violation. Be aware that a creditor’s violation of the FDCPA does not erase a legitimate debt. For more information visit www.consumeraid.org.

Mail your consumer questions to Ask Your Advocate, black enterprise, 130 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10011, or send an e-mail to brownmr@blackenterprise.com.

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