What to do with a debt collector: First, know your rights. If you’re contacted by a debt collector, the first thing to do is to go to www.ftc.gov and read the Federal Trade Commission’s legal rules for debt collection. Many people are frightened by debt collectors who call on the phone and speak rudely or harshly to them. But according to the FTC, a debt collector may not “harass, oppress or abuse” you in the process of collecting a debt. A good option is to send the collection agency a certified letter — keep a copy for yourself — telling them they may contact you only in writing. This does not prevent them from attempting to collect a legitimate debt, but it does stop them from calling you.
• Debt collectors may not:
• Call you at work if they know your employer does not approve
• Use obscene language
• Contact you at inconvenient times or places, such as before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you agree to this
• Repeatedly use the phone to annoy someone
• Claim that you will be arrested if you don’t pay
• Deposit a post-dated check early
• Debt collectors must:
• Prove (in writing) that you owe this debt, including the name of the creditor you owe, how much you owe, and how to proceed if you don’t think you owe it.
• If you’re contacted by a collection agency and you know you don’t owe, send a certified letter within 30 days of being notified about the debt. The collection agency must prove you owe in order to collect or to report you to the credit reporting agencies.
• If you think a debt collector has violated the law, you have one year to sue them in state or federal court.
• Additional resources:
• You can file a complaint about a legitimate debt collector with the Better Business Bureau, your state Attorney General’s office, and the Federal Trade Commission at 877-FTC-HELP.
Be aware that many scams begin with a phony debt collector trying to scare you over the phone into giving them money, usually by saying there is a warrant for your arrest.
• More info or report scams: Visit the BBB at www.bbb.org. Call (509) 455-4200 or (800) 356-1007.
Holly Doering, BBB editor