The nature of business doesn't lend itself to friendliness -- although they could give it a try once in a while. With so many people unemployed and the economy still gasping, more and more people are having to deal with this unpleasant situation.
If you are, you need to know the rules. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act spells out consumers' rights in the debt collection process and puts restrictions on just how far a collector can go.
- It's not OK to contact you anytime or anyplace: Debt collectors may only contact you between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. and they cannot contact you at work if you tell them you can't take personal calls there.
- Harassment is forbidden: A debt collector cannot threaten you or your family, tell third parties (other than your attorney) about your debt, publish a list of people who owe them money, use obscene language, call over and over again, or lie about who they are, what they're doing or how much you owe. The also may not threaten you with arrest or legal actions they are not permitted to take or prepared to pursue.
- You must be informed of how much you owe and for what: The debt collection must send you a formal written notice within five days of the first time they contacted you. The letter must say who is owed the money with a procedure for what to do if you don't think you're responsible for payment. If you challenge the debt within 30 days of getting the letter, the collector must stop calling until they are able to produce a bill or some other evidence you owe the money.
- You can make a collector stop calling: You can't stop them from trying to collect, but you can halt the calls. You must send them a letter (certified mail with a return receipt) asking them to stop calling. They may only call you to let you know they will stop calling or that they are taking you to court or are taking some similar action. The letter doesn't erase the debt; it just halts the calls.
- You can report a collector you think is violating the law: Contact your state attorney general or the Federal Trade Commission to report any actions by a debt collector you think crossed the line.
Just remember, if the collector comes your way, know your rights so you can help prevent an already difficult experience from turning into a nightmare.