“Don’t answer the phone, it’s a bill collector!”
Maybe you have witnessed someone look at their Caller ID and say this, or maybe you have said it yourself after seeing “Unknown Caller” or the name of a creditor pop up on your own phone. Either way, folks have been dodging bill collectors for ages.
In some cases, dodging them is understandable. After all, they may have called your home at 6 AM or 10 PM. Perhaps, they have called every hour on the hour for several days. Some may have threatened to come and arrest you.
No one wants to deal with this kind of harassment, and no matter how far behind you are on the bills, you shouldn’t have to deal with it. Why? All of the actions are illegal.
When I started to type “harassment from creditors” into a search engine, I only got as far as the “f” in “from” when the search engine offered me suggestions to finish my term. The top suggestion: harassment from creditors.
It’s no secret that some bill collectors go to creative lengths to collect outstanding debts…calling from blocked numbers, speaking in a friendly tone to catch you with your guard down, or using the first name only when asking who to speak to, as if they know you personally. I don’t like when strangers call and start off by getting personal. News flash: Mispronouncing the one name you chose to ask for is often a prelude to a dial tone!
I understand what is at stake for the debt collectors. They have purchased a bad debt from a creditor and they want to turn a profit on their investment. Regardless of what is at stake, there is a difference between being creative and being deceptive–and being deceptive is illegal.
So, what is illegal? The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act prohibits debt collectors from engaging in the following activities:
Deception – It is illegal for debt collectors to misrepresent facts regarding your debt, their identity or their company. Some examples of misrepresentation include inflating the amount of your debt, falsely claiming to be an attorney or police officer, using a phony business name, or claiming to forward your debt to the “legal department” if no such department exists.
Threatening – Debt collectors cannot threaten you with violence or any other criminal means to harm you (physically), your reputation or your property. They cannot threaten to arrest you for non-payment. Debt collectors cannot threaten to seize your property unless it is legal for them to seize the property and they actually intend to do so.
Harassment – Debt collectors cannot call you repeatedly or at unreasonable hours (before 8 AM or after 9 PM local time). While communicating with you in regards to your debt, they are not to use abusive or profane language.
When dealing with debt collectors, here are some things you can do:
Document your interactions – Put your correspondence in writing. Sending all correspondence via Certified Mail with a return receipt can help by creating a record of receipt for your documents and letting the recipient know you mean business.
Ask for proof – If you have doubts about any piece of a debt collector’s claim regarding what you owe, request a debt verification. Make your request in writing within thirty days of the first written notice you receive about the debt. The debt collector cannot continue collection efforts on the account until they respond to you with verification of the debt.
Report the offense – If you have been a victim of illegal debt collections practices, contact the Attorney General’s office in your state (www.naag.org) or the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov).
Crooked debt collectors prey on, and profit from ignorance. They assume you will not take the time to learn your rights and if they are correct, then you will not be aware if or when your rights are being violated. Prove them wrong!
I am not suggesting that people run from their debts. I am suggesting that people face their debts equipped with the tools to resolve them while being treated with fairness and respect.
Until next time,
This post includes some common illegal practices, for a complete explanation of the law regarding debt collection practices, read the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act or the FTC’s Debt Collection FAQs