If your credit card or other debt has been sold to a debt collection agency, they may be harassing you with endless, at times even threatening, communication. Debt collectors may contact you through phone calls, text messages, social media, and more. Knowing your rights and taking steps to protect yourself — like asking the debt collector to validate the debt and taking detailed notes of your interactions — is your best defense against aggressive debt collectors.
Written by Attorney Alexander Hernandez.
Updated July 13, 2023
What Is a Debt Collector?
A debt collector as an individual or business whose job it is to collect money from people who owe money to a creditor. If you owe money to a creditor — usually a bank or financial institution — your debt may be sold to a third party known as a debt collector. These collectors conduct collection activities, but they do not have the right to harass you in the process.
When Can a Debt Collector Contact Me?
The debt collector can contact you by phone initially. Remember, that most phone calls are recorded, so be careful what you say. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recommends that you be careful about providing personal information. It also says not to “apologize or admit to owing the debt,” because “those statements could be used against you.”
After the initial communication, the debt collector has to send you a written notice within five days. The letter should include the amount of the debt you owe and the account number associated with the debt. It should also inform you that you have 30 days to dispute the debt, in part or in full.
If you’re disputing the debt, request verification of the debt and the contact information of the original creditor. If the debt belonged to another debt collector or agency previously, request their contact information as well. Once the debt collector receives your request, they have 30 days to comply. If the collection agency fails to comply with these requirements, send a letter stating that. It’s important to keep a paper trail of your communication.
What Rights Do You Have Regarding Debt Collectors?
While it’s a debt collector's job to contact you to collect the debt you may owe, they do not have the right to harass you.
The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA), is a federal law designed to protect you against debt collectors who use illegal tactics to collect on a debt. The FDCPA protects you in the following ways:
It restricts when debt collectors can call you — they can’t call early in the morning or late at night
It allows you to tell debt collectors not to call you at work
It prevents debt collectors from using threats of violence or profane language
It prohibits debt collectors from talking about your debt with friends, family members, or employers
It requires debt collectors to properly identify themselves when contacting you
Debt Collectors Can’t Call You at Certain Times
Collection agencies can only call you between the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m., based on the time zone you live in. If the debt collection agency is calling you outside of those hours, that’s a violation of the FDCPA and is considered harassment.
A debt collector can initially call you at work but if you make it clear to the debt collector that you aren’t allowed to receive personal phone calls at work, under FDCPA they have to stop. Of course, the collection agency is then allowed to call you after work hours, up till 9 p.m., but repeated calls can’t be made if the intent is to annoy, abuse, or harass you.
Debt Collectors Can’t Threaten You or Using Harassing Language
Using threats of violence or obscene and profane language also violates the FDCPA. There is a difference between a debt collector communicating with you to settle your debt and harassing you. If the collector's intent is to annoy, abuse, or harass you, they are breaking the law.
Debt Collectors Can’t Discuss Your Debt With Third Parties
While a collector or collection agency can contact your friends, family, or employer, they cannot discuss details of your debt with them. Debt collectors are limited in what they can say to third parties they contact.
Also, if the debt collector knows you hired an attorney, they are not allowed to contact you directly unless your attorney has failed to reply to their requests within a reasonable amount of time.
Debt Collectors Can’t Misrepresent Themselves
When contacting you, a debt collector has to truthfully identify themselves and their intentions. Any false, deceptive, or purposefully misleading representation by a debt collector is in violation of the FDCPA. It’s also illegal to misrepresent the amount of debt you owe. This is why it’s always a good idea to request a debt validation letter if you haven’t already received one.
What if a Creditor Is Harassing You?
If the debt is still with the original creditor — meaning it hasn’t been sold to a third-party collector — the FDCPA doesn’t typically apply. That said, original creditors can’t use unfair, deceptive, and/or abusive collection practices.
If you are a victim of creditor harassment, then you can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB.) The CFPB is a consumer protection agency. It helps consumers with issues related to financial institutions such as (banks and lenders) and the products they offer (mortgages, credit cards, and student loans).
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How To Deal With Debt Collectors — Document, Document, Document
Documentation is very important when it comes to interacting with debt collectors! Here are three best-practices:
Keep copies of all written correspondence sent or received
Keep a call log with dates, times, and topics of phone calls received or made
Request debt verification letters and copies of any agreements made with debt collectors or original creditors
Keep Written Notices You Receive or Send
Keep a file to organize any documents—like written notices — that you send or receive. Also, take care in how you send written notices. Mail them via certified mail and with a return receipt requested. This will help you prove that the debt collector received your communication. Always keep a copy of the letter for your own records.
Keep a Call Log
Keep a call log to track the dates and times of all phone calls. Write down what you spoke about as well. If you used your cell phone, take a screenshot of the phone call as proof. Always write down the name of the creditor or agent you spoke to. Request written notice of any agreements you made via phone.
Ask for a Debt Verification Letters & Details About the Debt
You can request copies of any agreements between your original creditor and the debt collector to confirm they have authority to collect on the debt. Even though the debt collector will advise you of the outstanding balance, request an itemized statement to compare it to the balance with the original creditor. The itemized statement should show if late charges were applied and the interest rate.
If the creditor isn’t able to verify the debt, they cannot continue to try to collect it from you! If that debt appears on your credit report, you have the right to request its removal. If you don’t have it removed, it will hurt your credit score. If they fail to comply, that’s a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Notify the collection agency of any violations in writing.
How Do You Report Debt Collector Harassment?
Remember, the FDCPA is there to protect you from debt collectors who are violating the law. If you believe a debt collector has violated the FDCPA, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which enforces the FDCPA. You can also file a complaint with the CFPB.
If the debt collector continues to violate the FDCPA, consider taking legal action. You don’t have to hire an attorney to do this, but it may be helpful. If you win, you may be compensated with money damages and have your attorney’s fees covered.
Can I Sue a Debt Collector for Harassment?
If you believe the debt collector has violated the law, consider speaking to an attorney about it. Many FDCPA lawyers assist clients on a contingency basis, meaning you don’t have to pay the attorney fees unless you receive money from the action.
You must file a lawsuit within one year of the violation to comply with the statute of limitations. Check your state laws to know your time frame. You can also file a complaint with your state attorney general.
How Can I Get on Top of My Debt and Put a Stop to the Debt Collector Calls?
Dealing with debt is stressful, and debt collectors only add to that. While there are ways to put an end to their unfair practices, remember that stopping the harassment doesn’t stop collection efforts. The only way to stop collection efforts is to get on top of your debt.
If you’ve tried to manage your debt, but you feel like you can’t get it under control, you may want to consider filing bankruptcy. Filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 provides immediate protection against debt collection through the automatic stay. Bankruptcy is a powerful legal tool that was designed to get people a financial fresh start. Upsolve helps individuals file Chapter 7 for free, without the help of a lawyer. Use our free screener to get started.