Have you been harassed by a debt collection company? It’s not bad enough that you’re deeply in debt and fighting to keep your head above water, but in addition you are being bombarded with nasty phone calls – some of which can come both night and day. The debt collector may be threatening to talk with your employer, file suit or have your wages garnished.
There is some justice in this world
An article appeared recently on the website CNN Money reporting that the debt collection company Expert Global Solutions of Plano Texas had been fined $3.2 million by the Federal Trade Commission for harassing consumers. It had been found to be using abusive practices such as calling people several times a day, late at night or early in the morning, and even at their place of employment. There were actually instances where the collectors continued calling people even after they had paid their debts because they had not bothered to verify that the debts still existed.
The world’s largest
Expert Global Solutions is the world’s largest debt collection company. It has, if you can believe this, about 32,000 employees and enjoys $1.2 billion in annual revenues. According to the FTC, “the company’s debt collectors called persons repeatedly or continuously with the intent to annoy, harass or abuse.”
What to do if you’re contacted by a debt collection company
There was a classic movie some years ago where at one point the lead actor yelled, “I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!’
The good news is that if a debt collector who has made you mad contacts you, you don’t have to take it. A few years ago our Congress passed a bill called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. It prohibited debt collectors from using certain kinds of abusive behavior including:
• Hours for phone contact: contacting consumers by telephone outside of the hours of 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. local time
• Failure to cease communication upon request
• Causing a telephone to ring or engaging any person in telephone conversation repeatedly or continuously: with intent to annoy, abuse, or harass any person at the called number.
• Communicating with consumers at their place of employment after having been advised that this is unacceptable or prohibited by the employer
• Contacting consumer known to be represented by an attorney
• Communicating with consumer after request for validation has been made:
• Misrepresentation or deceit: misrepresenting the debt or using deception to collect the debt
• Publishing the consumer’s name or address on a “bad debt” list
Asked for verification
The first time a debt collector contacts you, make sure you request that he or she validate the debt. He must do this in the form of a letter and within five days. This letter must include the fact that you have the right to dispute the debt’s validity and that you have 30 days to do so. You can dispute the entire debt or part of it or ask for the name of the original creditor. Once the collection agency receives your letter, it cannot contact you again until it has provided you with the information you requested.
Use certified mail
If you decide to send a letter disputing the debt, be sure to send it certified and with return receipt requested. This way you will have proof that you mailed the letter and that the collection agency received it.
With the collection agency must do
When the collection agency receives your letter, it must send you proof that it either owns or has been assigned your debt by your original creditor. This verification must show that you actually owe the debt, the amount of the debt and include documentation from the original creditor. The law mandates that it is not sufficient for the agency to just send you a print out of the amount you owe.
If you do not receive verification
In the event that the collection agency does not send you the required verification within 30 days, it can no longer collect the debt from you. If it lists your debt with one of the three credit bureaus, you can dispute it with the appropriate bureau. You will need to send the bureau a copy of your debt validation letter, and copies of your certification and return receipt. This should help get that debt immediately removed from your credit report.
Stopping the harassment
You can also prevent a collection agency for from harassing you by sending it what’s called a “cease and desist letter.” (You can find samples of this letter online.) According to the FDCPA once the collection agency receives the letter it can contact you only once more – either to tell you it will no longer be contacting you or that it will be taking some specific action such as filing suit. You will need to send this letter registered and return receipt requested – again to prove that you mailed it and that the collection agency received it.
Check out this video for more information about handling calls from debt collectors including what you shouldn’t say.