Turning the Tables on Debt Collectors
Are you being contacted by phone and mail about a debt that you owe but haven’t paid or can’t pay? Maybe you are being called about somebody else’s debt? Does it seem like your phone won’t stop ringing or that you are threatened that calls will continue until you have cash to pay? Do you feel like you will never have any peace as long as you owe money? You’re not alone.
Many consumers today feel this way, but the key is to understand your rights to stop the calls and as soon as possible, take control of your finances. Here’s a how to list:
Don’t be intimidated
Shame and embarrassment are not the penalty for owing money. After all, the average US household credit card debt stands at $15,325, making it is far more common than being debt free. Paying down debt may play heavily on your mind, but it should not allow you to fall victim to the psychological tricks that collectors may try to coerce payment, especially if you aren’t able to afford it at that time. Take a deep breath, don’t panic, and be prepared.
Make the first move
If a debt collector calls, know what you will say in advance. Maybe prepare some notes and leave them by the phone. Be confident.
Tell them to stop
Once you have a collector on the phone, get their name and operator number, then tell them that you would like to exercise your right to demand that they stop contacting you by telephone or mail. To make it foolproof, send a similar request in writing with green card proof of delivery, keeping a copy for your records. It’s that simple – if they continue to contact you they violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
Do your research
Think about it: the collector on the other end of the phone knows nearly everything about you; your phone number, your home address, your career, and your credit score. What do you know about his company and why talk to anyone about finances without first knowing the caller? Go online and find out which state they are based in, the company structure, and complaints other consumers have made about them. Don’t rule out the possibility that the “collector” isn’t a collector at all, but merely a scammer trying to extort money from you.
Guard your identity and financial information
Collectors are strangers, calling to obtain personal financial information. Don’t assume that the collector is legitimately entitled to collect and never give out your social security number, bank account number, credit card number, balance in your bank account or other financial material. Don’t discuss other creditors or other bills and don’t reveal the name of any employer or other information. What is said on the phone often can be used by the caller to commit fraud or take your money without authorization. If you don’t guard your financial information properly, who will?
Make them do their research
Always seek validation/verification of the debt, even if you think you know it well. You may find it is another debt entirely, or something else that may lead you to not pay either because the debt is stale (too old), is not owed, was previously paid or is not yours at all. Many times the debt collector has their facts wrong. Make the debt collector prove that the debt is yours and not beyond the statute of limitations. Unsure? Call a consumer lawyer to ask.
Keep a record
Start writing things down. Keep a journal for every time you are contacted, and make notes of any accusations, misleading statements or harassing behaviors. This journal will prove immensely helpful if the collector does overstep boundaries and violates the FDCPA.
Talk to a lawyer
If you think you are being victimized by a debt collector that isn’t respecting the FDCPA, or you are unsure, contact an experienced consumer attorney. The law provides for the right to seek up to $1000–and payment of attorney’s fees. An experienced FDCPA lawyer will take your case without any payment from you. Even if the harassment isn’t severe enough to warrant a lawsuit, keep this in mind: once you have legal representation, collectors have to leave you alone and direct all contact to your lawyer.
If you are in debt or have defaulted on loans, there are ways to stop collection calls. If you feel that you may have a case, call 1-800-NOT-FAIR – your number for stopping abusive debt collectors.