Collection Agencies - Action Line

Dear Action Line, I have a collection agency calling me telling me that I have an unpaid bill from a company I’ve never heard of. They said the bill that is unpaid goes back to 1984. Seriously, 1984! They have been harassing me telling me that I need to pay the bill right away. They want credit card info. They won’t stop calling and they say if I do not pay they will send the sheriff out to arrest me. Can they do that?
June 15, 2017

Dear Reader,

No, they cannot send someone out to arrest you. According to the California Attorney General’s office, state law prohibits debt collectors attempting to collect or collecting a consumer debt by using obscene or profane language. A collection agency or its employees must not threaten to do anything that it cannot legally do. It cannot damage your property or physically injure you or others (California Civil Code section 1788.10)

 An agency may only call between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. If these hours are inconvenient for you, you may ask the agency to contact you at other times. There is no law that specifically limits the number of calls an agency may make to you. If you prefer that the agency contact you only by mail, send them a certified letter for that request and keep a copy for your records.

A collector cannot represent themselves as anyone except a collector and must tell the person who owes the debt that he or she is trying to collect the debt. Likewise, a collection agency cannot use any words or symbols in its notices to make the person who owes the debt think the notices are legal documents when they are not, or that they come from anyone other than a collection agency.

Information a collection agency must provide to you, either in its first contact with you regarding an unpaid bill or in writing within five days after that contact:

  • Amount you owe,
  • Name of the creditor, and
  • Process to follow if you dispute the bill.

The five-day notification period applies whether the collection agency's first contact with you is by telephone or in writing, but many agencies include that information on their initial written notice, whether or not they have telephoned first.

Each written notice demanding payment for a bill must contain the following information (15 United States Code section 1692g (a)):

  • Creditor's name (on the first notice),
  • Name, address and telephone number of the collection agency,
  • Date the notice was mailed,
  • Amount due,
  • Employer Contact; and a statement that the debt is assumed valid unless consumer notifies collector within 30 days of receipt of notice that the debt is disputed.


Remember to check your credit report. Go to This is the official site where you can get a free credit report once per year. You will want to make sure that this item is not on your report if it’s not yours, no matter how old it is. Also, please report this to


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