There are a number of important things to when dealing with a debt collector. Some points deserve more conversation, but for the sake of brevity, I’m going to write specifically to the point of getting the phone calls to stop.
Step#1 – What to say when they call
The FDCPA (Fair Debt Collection Practices Act) provides you a lot of protection as a consumer. One of those rights allows you to request a stop on communication. This section of the FDCPA is a must read and can be found here.
When a debt collector calls, you can inform them of the following (and then follow it up in writing):
“I am assesing my rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and requesting that all communication regarding this or any other alleged debt be made through the United States Postal Services only. Any attempt to contact me via telephone at my home, work (Beyond the one call to verify employment), relatives, on my cell phone, or any other location that you may have on file will result in me filing a complaint with the Attorney General’s office and the Federal Trade Commission for harassment. Civil and criminal claims will be pursued if appropriate .”
Understand that this verbal request must be followed up by a written request. You should mention the section of the code specifically: 15 USC 1692c(c).
The collector may attempt to get you to discuss the debt through insult. I have heard of individuals being called every name in the book (which is not permissible by law – see examples: Horkey v. JVDB & Associates, and read section 806(2) of the FDCPA) Do not let them bait you into conversation. Simply remind them of your rights and return to the above statement no matter what they say. Do NOT admit to the debt or express your desire to pay the debt. Remember that until the debt has been validated with proper paper work from the original creditor, it remains an alleged debt.
Step #2 – Put it in Writing
You need to put in writing the above verbal request. While the above can and will get them to stop calling, putting it in writing establishes the paper trail that is very important if the calls continue . A sample letter could be as simple as the following:
Collection Agency Address
Debt Collection Attempt on [Your Name]
Creditor Name: [creditor]
Account #: [account #]
To whom it may concern,
I am writing to inform you that, based on my rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act section 15 USC 1692c(c), I am formally requesting any and all communication regarding this or any other alleged debt that your offices may be attempting to collect from me be conducted only through the United States Postal Service. Any further attempt to contact me by phone through various locations and methods, including, but not limited to my home, work, relatives, friends, on my cellphone or any other such number that you may have on file for me will result in a complaint being filed with the Federal Trade Commission and the [your state] Attorney General’s office. Civil and criminal claims will be pursued if appropriate.
That letter should stop the calls. Be warned that stopping the calls does not negate the debt or your responsibility to deal with it. If you don’t dispute the debt with the collector within 30 days, the debt collector can assume the debt is valid. You should also include a request for validation of the debt with your correspondence. This can be as simple as adding the following to your letter:
“Additionally, I am requesting that you provide validation of this debt. Be advised that a printout of my address and the amount that I allegedly owe does not suffice as validation of the debt. Acceptable validation must include documentation from the original creditor.”
It is imperative that you send the letter certified mail so that you can establish a formal timeline. The debt collection agency must verify the debt within 30 days. They are not allowed to continue to attempt to collect the debt during that time.
Should the collection agency list the item with TransUnion, Equifax, or Experian, you can dispute the validity of the claim. Do so in a hand-written letter (typed letters are read by computer while hand written ones must be read by a human) and provide copies of the certified letter and receipts.
Some things you might want to know regarding the FDCPA and what debt collectors CAN’T do:
Call repeatedly or continuously—The FDCPA considers repeat calls as harassment. [15 USC 1692d] § 806(5)
Call before 8:00 am or after 9:00 pm—Calls during these times are considered harassment. [15 USC 1692c] § 805(a)(1)
Repeatedly call a third party to get your location information—The collector can only contact a third party once unless it has reason to believe the information previously provided is false. 15 USC 1692b] § 804(1)
Please keep in mind that I am NOT an attorney, and I am not providing legal advice.