Educational Consumer Tips
Better Business Bureau
If you’re contacted by a debt collector, always be sure you verify the debt. Within 5 days of when they first contact you, the agency must provide you with a validation letter detailing the debt and where it came from. If the debt is yours, and you can’t immediately pay it, know your rights as a debtor. When are they allowed to call you? And what if they start calling you at work?
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act protects consumers from being harassed by debt collectors by limiting how and when they can contact you. Types of debt that are covered by this act include personal debt, auto loans, medical bills, and your mortgage. Note: this excludes any debt you have accumulated while running a business.
When They Can Contact You. A debt collector may not contact you at inconvenient times. Both Federal and California law defines this as before 8a.m. and after 9p.m. - unless you instruct the agency otherwise. They also may not contact you several times in a short period of time, or it may be considered harassment.
Who They Can Talk To. Although debt collectors are permitted to contact your friends and family members when trying to collect a debt, they are limited to asking for information about your phone number, address, where you work, and where you live.
Prohibited Scare Tactics. State and federal laws prohibit debt collectors from impersonating someone they’re not, including attorneys, lawyers, government agencies, or friends & family members. They also cannot make false statements, threaten to take action that they don’t intend on taking, or threaten you with arrest. If debt collectors try to contact you at work and they are told not to, federal law prohibits them from calling again.
A Debt Collector Cannot Garnish Your Wages. It’s also important to know that collection agencies do not have direct access to your accounts and cannot garnish your wages. However, in the event of a lawsuit, a judge may order your bank to turn over funds from your account.
How to Stop a Collector From Contacting You. If you can’t resolve a debt, there are ways to get the collection agency to stop contacting you. Mail a certified letter to the agency telling them you do not want them contacting you again. Be sure to make a copy of the letter before you mail it. After you tell the agency that you don’t want them contacting you, they may only contact you to inform you they will stop, or to inform you of additional action they are taking, such as filing a lawsuit. Remember that just because a collector has stopped contacting you, does not mean the debt goes away.
Where to Report a Violation. If you believe a debt collector has used unfair means to collect a debt from you, report it to your state Attorney General’s office, or to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at http://www.consumerfinance.gov/.
Learn more about how you can become debt free at http://www.bbb.org/debt.About the Author: Danielle Spang is Public Relations Specialist for BBB serving Northeast California.