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Got Debt? You Still Have Rights When Collectors Call

So you owe some money. Maybe a lot of money. And now, you’re afraid to pick up the phone, take in the mail and even open the door for fear that a collector is, once again, trying to contact you.

If you are struggling with debt and you haven’t done so already, it’s time to make a plan to get out of debt and follow through with it. That’s the best way to stop third-party collection agencies in their tracks. Check out of infographic to identify the signs that you need help managing debt.

But, as you work to figure out the best solution for you, it’s also important to know the laws governing how collectors can get in touch with you. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act spells out the rules for debt collectors and prohibits harassment in the cases of debts related to car loans, credit cards, unpaid medical bills and overdue mortgages, for instance.

What’s harassment? The law sets limits on how collectors can contact you and what they can say. The law, however, applies only to third-party collection agencies. So, if you bought an appliance at a retail store and haven’t paid the bill, the owner of that store doesn’t have to comply with these rules.

Here are some of the activities that the federal law prohibits, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

  • They can’t call you on the phone after 9 p.m. and before 8 a.m.
  • They can’t contact you at work if you’ve told them verbally or in writing that your employer doesn’t want such calls at the workplace.
  • The collector must say at the very start of the call who they are and why they are calling you.
  • They can’t threaten you with jail or tell you that you’ve broken the law.
  • Verbal abuse, bad language, and threats of violence are strictly forbidden.
  • They can’t lie about how much money you might owe.
  • They can’t deceive you by claiming that they are police officers or by using a fake company name, for instance.
  • They can’t constantly call you just to annoy you.
  • They must stop contacting you if you ask them in writing to stop calling. The FTC recommends that you keep a copy of the letter and send the original one by certified mail with a “return receipt” so you’ll know when the collector received your letter. Even if they do get it, they’ll still be able to contact you for two reasons -- to let you know they got the letter and to let you know they plan to sue you or take some other specific action.

If you are contacted by a collector, don’t get mad, just get their information. Tell them that you are recording the phone conversation. Be sure to get all of their information, including their name, address, phone number and professional license number.

You can even refuse to talk about any debt until they send you a written “validation notice,” according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It’s critical that you never disclose any personal or financial information until you’ve verified that they really are a debt collector. Fraudsters posing as debt collectors often attempt to scam people.

If you think a collector is breaking the law, contact your state’s Attorney General’s office, the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The best way to handle debt collectors is to know your rights, get the relevant information and push forward on plans to improve your financial health so you never have to be afraid to pick up the phone or answer the door again.

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