What To Do When a Debt Collector Calls

women on phone large  150x150 What To Do When a Debt Collector CallsWhile the BBB is not a legal agency and can’t interpret the law, this is my understanding from the Federal Trade Commission and Attorney General’s Office:

1. Make sure it’s not a scam. Don’t confirm financial details to strangers. Always get the debt collector’s name, company name, and contact information.

  • A legitimate debt collector must send you written proof that you owe, and specifics. They  have to do this within a certain time period–I think 5 days–after contacting you by phone.
  • If you dispute the debt, in writing, within 30 days, they have to prove that you owe the money before they can continue trying to collect.
  • Debt collectors are not allowed to send you to jail or to threaten to do so. They can’t say they’re taking you to court unless they are, and there is a process they must go through first.

Look up the company to see if they are licensed to collect debt. For example, in the city of New York, all debt collection agencies must be licensed by the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs. If the company is not properly licensed, contact your state’s banking department or consumer affairs.

2. Don’t be intimidated. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act FAQs are available at the FTC website at www.ftc.gov. Know your rights. For example:

  • A debt collector can’t call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
  • They can’t harass, oppress, or abuse you. No swearing, no repeated phone calls, no threats of violence.
  • A debt collector can’t call you at work if they know your employer doesn’t approve.
  • Does the ringing phone make you anxious? They can’t continue to call if you request, in writing, that they only communicate with you by mail. They can still try to collect the debt.
  • They can’t collect a debt you don’t owe, nor a disputed debt, nor can they report either to the big three credit reporting agencies.

3. Find out about the statute of limitations in your state. If the statute has expired, a collector will usually not be able to sue you for the money—unless you make a new payment. This is called zombie debt collecting (bringing dead debts to life).

  • Check with your state’s Attorney General’s Office and
  • The Federal Trade Commission or
  • Call your local BBB for help

4. Had a bad experience? You can:

  • Complain to the Better Business Bureau
  • File a formal complaint with your state Attorney General

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About Holly Doering

Holly Doering has worked for the Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Washington, North Idaho, and Montana for half a decade. Her areas of expertise include the CORE Values Program (Character, Optimism, Respect, Ethics) for Teens and Charity Review as well as writing and editing. Prior to that, she has written for two newspapers, a local magazine, and taught English at the community college. She is the proud author of a short story in ZYZZYVA literary magazine and has had good luck publishing lots of poetry. Each year she rolls up her sleeves and wades into the autumn Nanowrimo writing madness and has several unfinished novels to her credit.