PhotoSome consumers are caught off guard when a debt collector calls and may take actions or make statements that are damaging to their position. The law, after all, gives consumers rights when it comes to dealing with creditors.

The law in question is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which spells out clearly what debt collectors can and can't do. That's why consumers should be familiar with the law, especially when an account is turned over for collections.

No one is arguing that consumers should try to weasel out of paying legitimate debts, but there is also no reason to allow yourself to be exploited by a debt collector who is skirting around the law.

Under the law, you do not have to talk to a debt collector, but the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says you might want to, at least once, to see if you can resolve the issue.

Stopping contact

But at any time, you can request the debt collector stop contacting you. Here's how:

Write a letter instructing the collector not to make further contact. Send a copy to the collector by certified mail and pay for a return receipt. After that, a debt collector may contact you only to tell you there will be no further contact, or to tell you the creditor plans to file a lawsuit.

Keep in mind, cutting off communication with a debt collector increases the likelihood of litigation. If the debt is illegitimate, maybe that's not a concern. Remember, cutting off contact does not make a legitimate debt go away.

If a debt collector calls about a debt that you know you do not owe, you can stop the calls by sending a letter – again by certified mail – stating you don't owe the money and asking for verification of the debt. You must send it within 30 days of receiving a validation notice. The collector may resume contact if it can prove you owe the money.

Old debt can be new again

In recent years debt collectors have purchased old debt from credit card companies for pennies on the dollar and attempted to collect it, even though in many cases the statute of limitations had expired and the credit card company had written off the debt.

The credit card site Credit.com warns consumers they should be very careful should they receive one of these debt collector calls. By saying the wrong thing – like admitting to owing the money – or making even a small payment, can start the clock again. 

Sometimes a debt collector will hound a consumer over a debt that doesn't exist, or belongs to someone else. When that happens, the consumer should consider legal action if the hounding persists.

Last year a debt collector sued a Missouri woman for a debt she insisted was not hers. When the jury heard her story, it not only dismissed the case, it awarded her $83 million from the debt collection company in punitive damages.


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