A debt collector calls at 7:59 a.m. about a bill that you have already paid. What is your next move to save your credit from crashing? First, don’t panic. When dealing with debt collectors, you have plenty of rights, thanks to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Here are six things to know when a third-party debt collector contacts you.
If you don’t believe you owe the money, dispute the debt in writing. Send the debt collector a letter by certified mail disputing the debt within 30 days of the initial contact. After your dispute letter has been received, he/she must provide written proof of the debt or cease all communications with you. Be sure to keep all records of all debt collector phone calls and messages. Although a debt collector is not required to respond within a specific period of time, you have a reasonable expectation of a timely response.
When you dispute a debt, the debt collector must report it as “in dispute” to the credit bureaus with which he or she works. The dispute will remain in your credit history until the debt collector provides you with proof that the amount you owe is in fact accurate. The “in dispute” information could remain in your credit history for several months if you don’t accept the debt collector’s initial proof.
You can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the organization responsible for enforcing the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The FDCPA is the main federal law that prohibits debt collection companies from using abusive language and unfair or deceptive practices to collect past-due debts from you. You can file your FTC complaint online at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov, call 800-382-4357, or mail: Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Response Center, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20580.
If an attorney is representing you, the debt collector can only contact your attorney. If they call you, supply the name of the attorney and end the conversation.
Debt collectors are required by law to tell you pertinent information about the debt including: the name of the creditor; amount owed and ways to dispute or seek verification of the amount. If this information is not provide on first contact, the debt collector is required to send you a written notice with the relevant details within five days of initial contact. If you have questions about the information provided to you by a debt collector, request formal verification of the debt in writing.
If you request in writing that a debt collector stop contacting you, he/she must comply to confirm that there will be no further contact and to notify you that the debt collector or the creditor may take the certain specific action it is legally allowed to take, such as a lawsuit against you.
Debt collectors have many restrictions. When it comes to collection calls, the Debt Collection Act says there is much that collectors cannot say or do, including:
- Using abusive or obscene language
- Harassing you with repeated calls
- Calling before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m. unless you agree
- Calling you at work if you have asked them to stop
- Talking to anyone but you or your attorney about the debt
- Falsely claiming to be an attorney or a law enforcement official
- Falsely claiming to be a credit bureau representative
- Threatening to garnish wages or seize property unless they actually intend to do it.
Remember: Telling a debt collector to stop contacting you does not prevent him or her from pursuing other legal ways to collect the debt from you if you owe it, including a lawsuit against you or reporting negative information to a credit reporting company.