A Primer for Your Consumer Rights When Contacted by a Debt Collector

Imagine you are home, the phone rings, as soon as you say hello the person on the line informs you that the call is a debt collection call. You don’t remember owing any entity or person anything and ask for information about the debt. The caller tells you the debt is four years old and they are with a collection company assigned to collect it. Do you pay it? What should you do? If you owe a past due debt, or someone informs you that they are contacting you to collect an old debt you have rights. These rights are enforced by the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Your Rights as a Debtor

  1. Although debt collectors may call you at home, they cannot call until after 8 AM in the morning and not call you after 9:00 PM. A debt collector cannot contact you at work if you inform them orally or in writing that your employer doesn’t allow you to get non-work related calls.
  2. After a debt collector contacts you by phone, they have five days to send you a document called a “validation notice” that tells you whom you owe and the amount of money you owe. This notice also must tell you how to proceed if you don’t believe you owe any money to the creditor.
  3. After you receive the validation notice you have 30 days to dispute the debt. However, a collector can contact you if it sends you written proof of the debt such as a copy of a bill for the amount that the collector is attempting to collect.

What Debt Collectors Can’t Do

Collection laws are consistent at the federal and most state levels of government. These laws forbid collectors from:

  • Harassing you with threats of violence or harm; using obscene language; threaten to publish your name as a poor credit risk; repeatedly using the phone with the purpose of annoying the debtor
  • Making false statements such as claiming you committed a crime; falsely claim they are an attorney or government representative; that they work for a credit bureau, lie about the amount you owe.
  • Other things debt collectors cannot do include telling you that you will be arrested if you don’t pay the debt or they will seize your property or wages (unless the law allows them to do so).

What Steps Can I Take for a Debt Collection Violation Against Me?

You can contact an experienced debt collection attorney to file a lawsuit against the debt collector. Other alternatives include contact your state Attorney General’s Office, the Federal Trade Commission, or the Consumer Financial Protection Board.

If you fail to notify the debt collector in writing within 30 days of the first contact with you that you dispute the debt, you will give up most of your debtor rights.