Owing debt is hard enough on its own. Throw in someone calling and harassing you about it night and day and you’ve got a miserable situation on your hands. You may not know it, but there is legal recourse to keep debt collectors from making your life a nightmare.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair or deceptive practices in their collection efforts for personal (non-business related) debt.
What rights do I have?
Once you’ve spoken with a debt collector, that person has five days to send you a written validation notice that includes the name of the creditor and the steps to take if you believe you have been contacted in error.
Do I have to take the call?
It’s probably wise to talk to the debt collector at least once, even if you can’t make a payment at that time. You may be able to resolve the dispute and end the matter with one call. Plus, if it’s a mistake, you’ll save everyone a lot of time and hassle by just clearing that up.
Can a debt collector contact anyone I know?
All correspondence is required to go through your attorney, if you have one. If not, in addition to trying to reach you, a debt collector may also contact other people including your family members, neighbors and even your employer—but only to find out your current address, phone number and/or where you work. The debt collector cannot discuss your debt with anyone you have not authorized.
Know what they can — and can’t — do
A debt collector may not contact you at inconvenient times or places, such as before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m., unless you agree to it. Collectors also may not contact you at work if they’re told (orally or in writing) that you’re not allowed to receive calls there. They are also prohibited from making harassing or false statements, or engaging in unfair practices.
Write a letter
Debt collectors are required to give you their mailing address on request. Use it to send a letter stating you don’t want to be contacted anymore. Make a copy of the letter for your own records and send the original by certified mail. Pay for a return receipt to document that your letter was delivered.
Once that letter has been received, the only time a collector can reach out to you is to confirm that there will be no further contact, or to inform you that they or the creditor intends to take a specific action, such as filing a lawsuit.
But keep in mind that sending a letter or hiring an attorney is not a “get out of jail free” card. The goal of the letter is to stop the contact attempts by the debt collector. While the calls may stop, you are still responsible for paying back any debts. If you don’t pay, a creditor can sue you to collect what you owe.
The important thing to remember is that although you may owe money to creditors, it doesn’t give them license to harass your every waking moment. Understand exactly what legal rights you have, and stand up for yourself to be sure they are enforced.
Debt collectors may not:
- Harass you, use profanity or threaten you with violence
- Contact you by postcard
- Threaten to have you arrested if you don’t pay your debt
- Pretend to be attorneys or government representatives
- Tell your employer or other people about your debt
- Garnish your wages
- Deposit a post-dated check early
- Give false information about you to a credit reporting company
- Pretend they are contacting you for reasons other than debt collection
- Contact you before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m. without your permission
Need to file a complaint against an unscrupulous collector?
North Carolina Attorney General: 1.877.NO.SCAM - ncdoj.gov
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: 855.411.2372 - consumerfinance.gov
If you need help making a plan to pay down debt, make an appointment by calling or visiting your local branch. Staff will be happy to assist you.