How to Fight Unfair Debt Collection Tactics

by : Jay Peters

You've just sat down for dinner with the family and the phone rings. A debt collector, hassling you again. Isn't there a law?

In fact, there are laws, both state and federal. But they don't prohibit debt collection companies from calling you at dinnertime. A debt collector can't threaten or harass you, contact you at "inconvenient times or places," or tell others about your debt. Here's how you can fight unfair debt collection tactics, and stop your dinner from going cold.

Stop answering the phone. This is not as easy to do as it sounds. Our brains are wired to pick up the phone when it rings, but with a little determination you can overcome that feeling.

If you must talk to the collection agency on the phone, record your conversations. (Be sure and check your state laws on phone call recording.) They may say something that violates a law. For example, they cannot use profane language, claim to be a lawyer when they're not, or imply that you have committed a crime and may be arrested.

You can stop a debt collector from contacting you, but you have to do it in writing. Send them a debt dispute letter, in which you tell them to stop contacting you, and that you also dispute the validity of the debt. Send the letter certified mail so you receive confirmation of receipt by the collector, and keep that for your records. Of course, this doesn't make the debt go away; you can still be sued by the collection agency or your original creditor. But at least you can finish dinner in peace.

Within a week after you are first contacted, the collector must send you a written notice stating how much you owe and to whom. The notice should also tell you what action you can take if you believe that you don't owe the money. If you respond to the notice, do so in writing, and keep all copies of the correspondence. If you create a file with your written correspondence and a log of your telephone calls, you may be able to claim harassment under a federal or state law.

Why are you being contacted by some company you've never heard of before? It may mean that one of your creditors has not received payment from you for several months. That bad debt was then turned over to the collection company. The collection companies operate in a variety of ways; some "buy" your debt for less than you owe, some work for a percentage of the money they collect, while others may be an in-house division of your original creditor. If the bad debt is truly yours, it might be time to negotiate a payment schedule with the collection company, and enjoy your family dinners again.

A much worse explanation for the calls from the collection company may be that you are the victim of identity theft. An impostor may have used your financial information to hijack your credit, open new accounts, and run up huge bills. If you believe that ID theft is the reason, it is imperative that you respond, in writing, to the debt collection company and get them to investigate immediately.