4 Steps to Stop Debt Collectors in Their Tracks

The next time you’re in a room with six other people, look around: A debt collector is probably hounding one of you.

An April 2014 report from the Center for Responsible Lending found that one in seven Americans is on the receiving end of debt collection activities.

More concerning is the fact that some of these consumers may not owe the debt at all. Accounts are bought and sold, and balances may be incorrectly stated or settled accounts erroneously listed as in default.

If you find yourself on the receiving end of debt collection calls — regardless of whether the debt is valid — here are four steps to stop abusive debt collection practices.

Step 1: Ask for proof of the debt

When a debt collector contacts you for the first time, always ask for proof of the debt.

A popular scam involves collection calls for debt that doesn’t even exist. In other cases, third parties buy debts that may have been previously settled or paid off.

The Federal Trade Commission says this:

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.

After receiving the validation notice, you have 30 days to dispute the validity of the debt. For example, send a copy of the settlement agreement or other documentation if applicable.

Step 2: Stop letting them ruin your day

Nothing puts a damper on your day quite like a debt collection call. Even if it’s a valid debt, get off the phone with these people.

Rather than experience that sinking feeling every time the phone rings, ask debt collectors to communicate with you in writing. Under federal law, they have to comply. If they don’t, see Step 4.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has several sample letters on its website you can use to request that a collector contact you in a way you prefer, such as:

  • By mail only
  • Through your attorney
  • By phone at certain hours

Step 3: File a complaint about abusive behavior

Perhaps the collector will continue to call even after you’ve asked him or her to stop. Or maybe the collector will start calling your neighbors and telling them you owe a bad debt.

Both moves may be illegal and should be reported to the government.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, debt collectors are prohibited by law from doing many things, including the following:

  • Calling before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. unless you have agreed to accept early or late calls.
  • Making threats, using obscenity or calling repeatedly to annoy you.
  • Publishing a list of individuals with outstanding debts.
  • Falsely claiming to be a lawyer or someone who works for a government agency.
  • Discussing your debt with anyone other than you, your spouse and your attorney.
  • Claiming you have committed a crime or will be arrested.

If a debt collector does any of the above, let them know you are aware of your rights and will file a complaint.

When you file your complaint, send all key details of the interaction, including:

Step 4: Get a lawyer

Finally, if that doesn’t work, it may be time to lawyer up.

Federal law allows you to sue a debt collector for abusive behavior. You could be awarded damages, plus attorney’s fees. If enough other people are having problems with the same collector, you could file a class-action lawsuit.

Some consumer attorneys will take these cases for free, but you need to have great documentation. If you sent a “do not call” letter, it should have a return receipt so you can prove the collector got it. If the company is being abusive on the phone, keep a log to record the time of every call, the person to whom you spoke, and what he or she said.

To find a free lawyer, look for consumer attorneys who offer free consultations.

You can also tap the wisdom of the Money Talks News Solutions Center. There, you’ll find tips for getting help with debt collectors.

Have you had a nightmare debt collection experience? Let us know how you got the collectors off your back by commenting below or on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
10 Bad Money Habits That Are Robbing You Blind
10 Bad Money Habits That Are Robbing You Blind

Here’s how to change those bad behaviors.

2-Minute Money Strategy: How Should I Invest My Retirement Savings?
2-Minute Money Strategy: How Should I Invest My Retirement Savings?

If retirement is on the horizon, you can’t afford to take too much risk, but you also need to make as much as possible. Here are your options.

5 Countries Where You Can Retire on $2,000 a Month or Less
5 Countries Where You Can Retire on $2,000 a Month or Less

These tips on retiring overseas come from someone who’s been helping American expats for decades.

10 Tools You Need for Financial Stability
10 Tools You Need for Financial Stability

Have these tools and accounts in place so you can weather whatever comes your way.

20 Great Part-Time Jobs for Retirees
20 Great Part-Time Jobs for Retirees

Maybe you’re not ready to leave the workplace entirely.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

8 Tips for Retiring Comfortably on Social Security Alone
8 Tips for Retiring Comfortably on Social Security Alone

It’s never too early to start learning how to live well while living on less.

Am I Eligible for My Mother’s Social Security Benefit?
Am I Eligible for My Mother’s Social Security Benefit?

Can an adult daughter tap into her late mother’s benefit?

The Next 5 Groups Who Will Get the COVID-19 Vaccine
The Next 5 Groups Who Will Get the COVID-19 Vaccine

The CDC has unveiled a schedule that likely will determine who gets the next doses.

11 Generic Products You Should Buy at Costco
11 Generic Products You Should Buy at Costco

Not all generics are worthwhile, but these are among the best from Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand.

9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

This Surprise Factor Can Raise Your Risk of Dementia
This Surprise Factor Can Raise Your Risk of Dementia

Nearly half of U.S. residents may face this threat.

Organize Your Home With These 10 Thrift Store Finds
Organize Your Home With These 10 Thrift Store Finds

Resolve to be clutter-free in 2021 with these secondhand purchases.

This Gas Station Scam Is Victimizing More Drivers
This Gas Station Scam Is Victimizing More Drivers

For the second straight year, a growing number of Americans believe they’ve fallen prey to this scam.

11 Laws You Could Be Breaking Without Knowing It
11 Laws You Could Be Breaking Without Knowing It

Seriously? Fibbing about the weather is a crime? This and other little-known legal traps await the unwary.

These Are the 3 Best Used Cars You Can Buy
These Are the 3 Best Used Cars You Can Buy

These vehicles boast reliability, safety and long-lasting value.

6 Legal Documents Retirees Need — but Don’t Have
6 Legal Documents Retirees Need — but Don’t Have

Few retirees have all of these documents that are crucial to their golden years — especially during a pandemic.

13 Things Seniors Can Get for Free — or Almost Free
13 Things Seniors Can Get for Free — or Almost Free

There are many ways to get cheap or free services and goods after reaching a certain age.

Internet Providers Can’t Charge You for This Anymore
Internet Providers Can’t Charge You for This Anymore

Starting this month, your ISP no longer can bill you for this fee.

Can a Divorced Widow Claim Her First Husband’s Social Security Benefits?
Can a Divorced Widow Claim Her First Husband’s Social Security Benefits?

The rules are complicated when it comes to eligibility for survivors benefits.

9 Small Expenses That Are Bleeding Your Budget Dry
9 Small Expenses That Are Bleeding Your Budget Dry

Keep more of future paychecks by eliminating these budget-busting unnecessary expenses.

15 Painless Ways You Can Cut Costs in 2021
15 Painless Ways You Can Cut Costs in 2021

Follow these tips to save, so you’ll have money for things that really matter.

11 Huge Retirement Costs That Are Often Overlooked
11 Huge Retirement Costs That Are Often Overlooked

Does your retirement budget account for all of these costs?

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.