Debt collectors are the bane of many Americans’ existence. They’re known for picking up the phone, calling at all hours, and harassing people who have debts.
It can be stressful and upsetting when a collector calls you repeatedly about an old bill that you may (or may not) owe. But you can take effective steps to stop debt collectors from being a nuisance. Here are five easy actions.
Understand your rights and responsibilities
In the United States, debt collectors must abide by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The FDCPA is a federal law that regulates how debt collectors operate. It also provides you with certain rights as well as responsibilities.
For example, collectors can only call you between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. If they phone outside of those hours, they must leave a message that states their name and company (if applicable), plus the date and time of their call, on your voicemail or answering machine. This applies even when you owe them money.
Keep good records
Every time you speak with collectors, keep a detailed record of their interactions with you. Write down all the details of the conversation, including when and where it took place. Make sure you document this as much as possible, because collectors may try to dispute what happened.
Keep a journal of every phone call you receive, including the notice. The debt collector must provide this information within five business days (or within 15 calendar days if you live in a rural area) of receiving your request.
If they do not supply this information, contact them again and let them know their failure to comply with your request is unlawful and may result in legal action against them by you or someone else.
Take action by talking to an experienced FDCPA attorney
If you’re facing debt collector harassment, a lawyer can help you understand your rights. He or she can also tell you whether it’s legal for collectors to contact family members or post their information online.
If the debt collection agency might be involved in illegal activities, such as demanding repayment after the statute of limitation has expired, your attorney will go to court and ask the judge to dismiss the case.
Send a cease and desist letter
You can send a cease and desist letter to any debt collector who’s contacted you about an account that isn’t yours. A cease and desist letter is like a formal “stop” sign.
The letter tells the collector to stop contacting you and creates some legal protections for the recipient. You can send it by certified mail or email.
If sent via certified mail, it’s best to use tracking so you have proof of when the collector receives it. The letter should include your name and contact information, the name of the debt collection agency, and its address or phone number.
In your letter, state why the debt collection agency is contacting you and, if the debts are not yours, inform them that they are violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Then give them a deadline, such as five business days, to confirm and validate the accuracy of their information before you proceed with legal action against them.
Call the collector to verify the debt
Once you have all the information, ask the collector to send you copies of the documents that prove they own the debt. If they don’t want to do that or can’t verify the debt is yours, tell them that if they don’t stop calling and writing letters, you will file a complaint against them with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and your state attorney general’s office.
Sometimes, a debt collector will continue to call even after you’ve provided this information. This is because they’re trying to get specific information about you and your financial situation, such as where you work or what kind of income you earn.
If they won’t stop calling even after you’ve provided all this information, contact them again and let them know their calls may qualify as harassment, which is against the law under the FDCPA.
Debt collection is a serious matter, and you must treat it as such. If you receive a call from a debt collector, take time to think about what they’re saying before you respond.
Remember, they’re trying to get money out of you, so you shouldn’t give them any information over the phone unless it’s utterly necessary.