Friday, July 20, 2007

Can They Really Do That? Know Your Rights Regarding Debt Collection

by Heather Wells (Recovery Advocate)

How many people have experienced this scenario? You’re just about to sit down to dinner when the phone rings. The voice on the other end of the line sounds threatening, telling you that “this is an attempt to collect a debt.” You explain that this must be a mistake, that you check your credit reports regularly and pay all of your bills on time. However, “Mr. Smith” tells you that you are obviously a no good, worthless, cheap, despicable, sorry excuse for a human being who will pay up or else! This clip from the recent film Maxed Out is a perfect example of the unscrupulous practices that are common to many collection agencies.

Obviously, debt happens. It’s a huge problem for many consumers who legitimately have incurred debt that they were not able to manage. But, then there’s the other folks who are victims of identity theft who, before their dinner was so rudely interrupted, had no clue that their social security number had been used to open up an account that was subsequently ignored and not paid on. For both of these groups of individuals there are some laws to protect them when “Mr. Smith” calls in order to harass and belittle.

According to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) collectors are not allowed to use unfair or deceptive practices to collect on debts. Here are some things they can and can’t do:

1) Collection agencies must provide you with written documentation regarding the debt, including how much is owed, the name of the original credit grantor, and how to dispute the debt. This documentation is especially crucial for victims of identity theft who will need to submit a written dispute to the collection agency.
2) They cannot contact you before 8:00am or after 9:00pm unless you tell them it’s OK.
3) They cannot contact you at your workplace unless you give them permission.
4) Collectors may not threaten you or use obscene or profane language.
5) They cannot call you over and over again just to annoy and harass you.

So, the next time you get that call from “Mr. Smith” trying to collect, remain calm and tell him that you know your rights. It’s amazing how docile they can become once they realize they can’t bully you.

For more information on the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act go to the FTC website.

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