HANDLING DEBT COLLECTION CALLS: THE LAWFUL, THE LAWBREAKERS AND THE LIARS.
Phone calls from debt collectors may become an increasingly difficult fact of life if you have fallen behind on payments to your creditors. Since most debt collection agencies and the people they employ get paid based on their performance – that is whether or not they collect payments on behalf of creditors, there is a significant temptation for debt collection agency employees to employ tactics which violate Federal law. However, if you know your rights under the law and follow a few simple steps you will feel more in control of the conversations you have with a debt collector when discussing a debt you legitimately owe.
The first step in gaining control of the conversation is to only take the call if you have time to discuss the debt. If you are caught off guard by the debt collector you may not be able to think clearly. If you are rushed you may be pressured into agreeing to make a payment because you are in a hurry to end the conversation. If you are busy and do not have time to talk with the debt collector when they call then tell them you can’t talk with them at that time, take down their name and phone number and tell them that you will call them back. Be firm and end the conversation. Call them back as promised when you have time to talk.
The second step is to take good notes. Write down the time of the call, the name of the caller and the phone number they are calling from. Write down the alleged amount you owe and the name of the original creditor. Keep a log of this information as well as the details of the conversation during the call. Let the caller know you are taking notes regarding the conversation.
Third, remember that under Federal law you have a right to request information validating that you owe the debt and the information validating the debt must be in writing and mailed to you. The debt collector is also required to notify you of your right to dispute the validity of the debt. Once you receive notice you have 30 days to send a letter requesting proof that the debt is yours. After receiving the letter, the collector must stop collection activity until they’ve sent the proof that you owe the debt. I recommend that you always request information validating the debt you owe.
Fourth, remain calm. Some debt collectors will intentionally attempt to anger or scare you in order to throw you off balance. The debt collector may employ one or more tactics that are illegal under Federal law. For instance, The law says debt collectors can only call between the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. Collectors are generally not allowed to tell anyone else about your debt except your spouse or your attorney, if you have one. Debt collectors are prohibited from giving false information. For instance, they are not allowed to falsely represent themselves as an attorney or a representative of a government agency. A collector may not accuse you of committing a crime or threaten criminal prosecution or arrest in order to pressure you to pay a debt. Debt collectors are not allowed to misrepresent the actions they intend to take such as threatening to sue you or serve you with legal papers unless they intend to do so. Although a debt collector may call you at work, they must stop when requested in writing to do so. A debt collector may not harass you by using obscene, profane, or abusive language.
If a debt collector calls you and uses any of these tactics then inform them that they are breaking the law and request to speak to their supervisor. If you speak to a supervisor ask that person for their name, tell them you are noting the time and date of the call and report to them the unlawful behavior engaged in by the agency employee. Ask for a mailing address and let them know you will be filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). If the debt collector refuses to let you speak to a supervisor let them know that you are writing down the conversation and making a note of their violation of the law. Regardless, after the call go to WWW.FTC.Gov and follow the instructions on the FTC web site to file a complaint.
You should also know and keep in mind that there are scam artists (liars) who may call you and pretend to be collecting on a legitimate debt. Increasingly my clients report to me that they are being subjected to calls or even receiving emails from individuals who represent themselves to be law enforcement officials or a representative of law enforcement. The caller then threatens to have you arrested or even claim that a “federal officer” is en route to serve you with an arrest warrant and take you “into custody.” Of course they offer to “call off” the arrest if you will provide them with a debit card number and pay the alleged debt over the phone. You should rest assured that law enforcement officials are not interested in collecting consumer debt, even old cash advances or pay day loans. NEVER give personal information to a caller, even if they already have your social security number or have other information about you. These callers typically will not provide any verifying information regarding the debt nor provide their address. Although the phone call may appear to originate within the United States, they typically are made outside of the United States where they know it will be difficult for the Federal Trade Commission to take action. It is not advisable to make payments or payment arrangements with a caller unless and until you verify that the caller is legitimate and that the debt being collected on is genuinely a debt you owe. That verification should be in writing and you should receive it before agreeing to any payment.
Finally, remember that debt collection calls, when legitimate and within the law, can be an indication that you are in financial difficulty. You may benefit from discussing your situation with an experienced debt relief attorney. At Kinkade & Associates we appreciate the fact that the decision to seek advice from an attorney is not easy. On the other hand, significant and often unnecessary damage can be done by waiting too long to seek advice regarding your situation. This is where an experienced, knowledgeable and compassionate Kinkade & Associates bankruptcy attorney can assist you in making the best decision for you and your family. At Kinkade & Associates we welcome the opportunity to meet with you personally, discuss your concerns and answer your questions regarding your circumstances and whether or not you should consider potential bankruptcy.
During your free initial consultation an experienced, knowledgeable and compassionate Kinkade & Associates attorney we will discuss with you whether or not bankruptcy may offer you relief from creditors (including harassing phone calls and letters from debt collectors), stop garnishments, stop foreclosure or even stop a pending Sheriff’s sale of your home. In your free initial in-person consultation with a local Kinkade & Associates attorney we can discuss whether your situation would permit you to propose to your creditors and the bankruptcy court a plan which would allow you to repay your creditors and catch up payments on your car and home – potentially rescuing your home from foreclosure – bringing you current with those creditors and giving you the opportunity for a fresh start.
Please do not hesitate to contact us for a free initial in-person consultation if you have any questions about whether or not we can assist you.
Kinkade & Associates, P.C., 123 NW 4th Street Suite 201, Evansville, IN 47708 812-434-4909 812-434-4831 FAX