My friend from work came into my cubicle with tears in her eyes. No, she was not being laid off. She was not having troubles with her boyfriend. She was not upset about anything work related. She admitted that she was being hounded by a debt collector. She owed $135 in medical bills that she was unaware of until the day she got the phone call from a debt collection agency.
Since that day her life turned into a never ending nightmare of phone calls from a man who was threatening to call her mother, to tell her boss, to put a lien on her house and to impound her car. Once my friend was woken up in the middle of the night by this guy! When she asked him why he was calling her in the middle of the night, he responded with a simple “To make sure you are at home.”
I listened to my friend spilling out her frustrations and fears. The debt collector that was calling my friend was obviously violating the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act. Obviously my friend was letting him get away with it. Few people are aware of their rights. Unfortunately, my friend was one of them.
I told her that she needed to take a deep breath, pick up the phone and face her issues. But she also had to know her rights. She could fight back against unfair and unethical debt collections tactics. It did not matter that she owed money, a debt collector owed her consideration and fair treatment.
He also needed to respect her rights.
Right # 1. The Fair Debt Collection Practices regulates how debt collectors can contact you. They cannot call you in the middle of the night! If debt collectors are calling you outside of 8:00 AM and 9:00 PM time frame (unless you agree to it), you can and should report them.
Right # 2. You want to make sure you are not falling victim of a scam. Make sure that the debt you are requested to pay is yours. Ask questions, request specifics: ask for the names of the caller, the collection agency and the creditor. I strongly recommend requesting something in writing stating what you owe. If the debt is indeed yours, try to work out some kind of payment plan.
Right #3. Assert your right to privacy. Tell the collector that you are the only person to be contacted. It means that the collector should not be contacting your employer, neighbors, relatives or friends.
Right #4. Don’t tolerate whatever abuse a debt collector decides to dish out. The collector is not allowed any idle threats, use profane language, or imply any threats or use negative comments about you. For example, the collector cannot threaten to impound your car just to get you to pay your debt.
Right #5. You can tell a debt collector to stop contacting you by phone. Send them a certified letter stating you preferred methods of communication. Make sure to keep track of all collection letters. But remember, sending such a letter does not get rid off your debt. You still owe money.
For more information go to ftc.gov.
Once your debt is in collections, you credit score has already taken a big hit. Don’t ignore your debt. Don’t avoid collection calls. It is not a solution. The longer you take to act, the deeper the hole you’ll find yourself in. Please remember that no matter what you do and how you handle a debt collection, you have to act quickly and responsibly. Most importantly – know your rights!