Your phone rings late at night.
The caller tells you he has a warrant for your daughter’s arrest over an unpaid debt he’s trying to collect.
Or maybe a text lights up your cellphone: “YOUR PAYMENT DECLINED WITH [YOUR CREDIT CARD NUMBER] … CALL 888-555-1234 IMMEDIATELY.”
Does that look like a fraud alert from your credit card company?
Both messages are just sneaky, illegal scare tactics that unsavory debt collectors may use in their odious attempts to squeeze cash from you — even if you don’t owe anyone any money.
You can fight back. You might even get a lawyer to fight for you for free.
Debt collection businesses must abide by federal laws designed to protect consumers. Federal courts have banned dozens of firms from participating in the debt collection business due to abuse allegations.
Here’s what to watch for and how to stop harassment by debt collectors.
Know your rights
A federal law called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act details practices that are off-limits for debt collectors. They include:
- Lying about the amount you owe.
- Using foul language.
- Making threats of violence or harm.
- Calling repeatedly to annoy you.
- Calling you at work (if you’ve told them orally or in writing that your employer doesn’t allow you to get such calls in the workplace).
- Publishing a list of individuals with outstanding debts.
- Falsely claiming to be a lawyer or someone who works for a government agency as a means of harassing, threatening or deceiving you.
- Falsely claiming you have committed a crime or will be arrested.
Additionally, debt collectors must send you what’s known as a “validation notice” in writing within five days of first contacting you. It must include:
- The amount of money you owe.
- The name of the creditor to whom you owe the money.
- How you should proceed if you don’t think you owe the money.
What you do upon receipt of this notice affects what debt collectors can do going forward. The Federal Trade Commission explains:
“If you send the debt collector a letter stating that you don’t owe any or all of the money, or asking for verification of the debt, that collector must stop contacting you. You have to send that letter within 30 days after you receive the validation notice. But a collector can begin contacting you again if it sends you written verification of the debt …”
If a debt collector takes any of the above illegal actions or fails to do what is required of them, tell them you know your rights and will file a complaint.
The FTC advises that you report abuse to the commission as well as the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and your state attorney general’s office.
You can contact and file complaints with federal agencies online. To find out how to contact your state attorney general, visit the National Association of Attorneys General’s website.
How to stop debt collection harassment
Attorney Craig Kimmel of Kimmel & Silverman tells Money Talks News that if you are contacted by a debt collector, you should tell them you want everything in writing. Do not give them any personal information over the phone.
To keep collectors at bay, you can also tell them you don’t want to be contacted by phone and then hang up. Additionally, write a letter, or have a lawyer write a letter for you, saying that you don’t want to be contacted.
Documentation is key to fighting abuse, especially if you decide you want a lawyer to help you fight abuse.
So if you send a letter, for example, keep a copy for yourself and get a return receipt to prove the collector got the letter. If the company is abusive on the phone, log the time of every call, the person you spoke to, and what he or she said.
If you sue a debt collector within one year of their violation and you win the case, you could be awarded damages or reimbursed for attorney fees, the FTC says. Additionally, the collector could be ordered to pay you up to $1,000.
Some consumer attorneys also represent abuse victims for free. “We know we can get paid if we can go after the debt collector successfully,” Kimmel says.
Lawyers need good documentation, though.
Another option if a collector crosses the line: Consult the debt collector harassment page of our Solutions Center. Money Talks News has partnered with Debt.com to match you with a reputable expert who can help you.
To learn more about your rights and options when it comes to debt collection, check out:
- “Ask Stacy — Is There a Statute of Limitations on Debt?“
- “4 Steps to Stop Debt Collectors in Their Tracks“
- “What Should I Do if I Discover I Have Debt in Collections?“
Have you been a victim of debt collection abuse? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.