9 ways to silence debt collectors

You can turn the tables on the most annoying and intimidating collection agencies by taking some proactive steps.

By MSN Money Partner Mar 27, 2013 10:45AM

This post comes from Gerri Detweiler at partner site Credit.com.


Credit.com logoIf your phone is ringing off the hook with calls from debt collectors, it's not likely that you feel in control of the situation. But letting yourself feel scared or intimidated isn't a good option, either. Go down that road and you may wind up making promises you can't keep or payments you can't afford.


Image: Business man with open hand out © Le Club Symphonie, Cultura, Getty ImagesWhat if there was a way to turn the tables on debt collectors so that you are in control of the conversation, and can actually come up with a solution to put those debts behind you? You'll find nine approaches to doing just that here.


Note, however, this is not about trying to get out of paying your debt if you can afford to do so. What we are talking about here are legitimate ways to deal with aggressive or relentless collectors who continue to pressure you to pay debts you owe but are impossible for you to pay right now.


If you suspect the callers aren't on the up and up, though, you'll need different strategies for stopping debt collection scammers. If you are getting calls for someone else, you'll want to read about what to do if you are getting collection calls for the wrong person.


Don't wait for them to call. Consider picking up the phone and calling the debt collector yourself.


"People I have worked with over the years find they have a different mindset when talking with a debt collector when they have made the call themselves," says Michael Bovee, founder of the Consumer Recovery Network, where he provides free information about how to talk with debt collectors. "You are better able to prepare for the call and are dialing with a prepared strategy and purpose. Most people feel they are more in control of the call when placing it themselves."


Check them out. By the time a bill collector calls you, he probably knows a good deal about you. He probably has reviewed your credit reports to see what other debts you owe. He may have checked out your employment using The Work Number database. He may have even checked out your Facebook profile.


You, on the other hand, are getting a call from a company you've probably never heard of before. And even if you know you owe the debt, it's reasonable for you to check out the collector. At a minimum, you want to make sure you are dealing with a legitimate company and not a debt collection scammer.


Ask for the agency's address (you are entitled to this information) and check them out with the Better Business Bureau. Call your state attorney general's office to find out whether collectors must be licensed in your state. If so, confirm whether they are. Most states provide an online look-up tool for checking the licensing status of a business.


What if the collector won't tell you who is calling? If you have caller ID, type the phone number of the company that's calling into a search engine, suggests Sukhman Dhami, founding partner of The Dhami Law Firm, adding, "You can learn a lot online." You may find the name of the agency as well as learn about complaints from other consumers.


Dump it back in their lap. If the debt collector is trying to collect on a debt that you don't recognize, or you think the amount is wrong, or you think it's too old, ask them to validate the debt. You have the right to do so under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.


"Asking for proof how the debt was calculated and to demonstrate it is a valid debt you owe will put you back in the driver's seat by asking them to support their claim," says Steve Rhode, aka "The Get Out of Debt Guy." He provides a free sample debt validation letter on his site.


At a minimum, requesting validation of a debt gives you time to research the debt to determine if it is legitimate and figure out what you can afford to pay toward it. (If a debt collector refuses to verify the debt after you've requested it, the company may be breaking the law.)

Stick to business. You may feel guilty or embarrassed that you couldn't pay your bills. The collector knows that and may try to use that to his advantage. "There is a great deal of psychology used by debt collectors to create feelings of guilt and obligation on the part of debtors," warns Atlanta bankruptcy attorney Jonathan Ginsberg.


The key is to try not to get swept up in the emotions. "When the debt collector calls, people panic, and when they panic they don't think clearly. This leads to more stress, fear, intimidation, and loss of control," agrees Rhode.


A couple of years ago, Ginsberg interviewed Kenny Golde, who was able to settle $250,000 of credit card debt for less than 50 cents on the dollar and went on to write a book about his experience. In that interview, Golde explained that the key to his success arose from treating all interactions with debt collectors as business dealings, understanding that their focus is on collecting funds as quickly as possible, and knowing he had a certain budget he had to stick to.


Show them the money. Reached an impasse? You may want to send the collector a payment, such as $100, suggests Ginsberg. "In some situations, collection agencies lose their commission if the file is referred to a lawyer, so they will be less likely to turn the file over to the lawyer if they are receiving money," he explains.


Keep in mind that making a payment could extend the statute of limitations on an older debt, and it doesn't prevent a collector from suing you to collect. However, this could be one tactic to try if your other attempts to make good on a debt aren't working.


Ask to speak to a supervisor. If a collector is trying to scare and intimidate you, write down those threats immediately and ask to talk with a supervisor. Make a note of the supervisor's name. If you end up suing the debt collector for breaking the law in its collection efforts, "that's how you get punitive damages," says Florida consumer law attorney William Howard. "If it's just Billy the crazy collector threatening you, then they'll just fire him," he explains. "But if you complain to their supervisor, now it's not just their collector (that's the problem), but their internal procedures."


Call their bluff. If a debt collector is threatening to take legal action, don't panic. It may not make sense for them financially to sue, or they may not have a strong case if you fight the lawsuit. They are counting on the fact that you don't know that.


"If the collection agency is based out of state, they will almost certainly have to retain local counsel, so use that knowledge to your benefit and turn the tables on them," Ginsberg suggests. "For example, you can say, 'If you have to sue me, your company will have to hire a lawyer and you'll lose out on your commission. Why not accept my proposal of $XX.'"


Tell them to take a hike. Under federal law you have the right to ask a debt collector to stop contacting you. It's best to put this request in writing, either by mail or by fax. "They can still sue if they want," says Howard. "But the majority of debt collectors aren't set up to sue, they are set up to set you up on their autodialer and keep calling."


He adds that this strategy can be particularly effective with smaller debts, as many debt collectors aren't set up to sue consumers for small amounts.


Talk with an attorney. Don't be afraid to reach out to a consumer law attorney or bankruptcy attorney for help. Many offer a free consultation. A consumer law attorney can tell you whether the collectors' actions to collect from you are legal. And a bankruptcy attorney can explain what they can and cannot do to collect from you. Some attorneys offer both services.


More on Credit.com and MSN Money:


May 6, 2013 5:00PM
Never send a collection company a partial payment.  They will not stop hounding you once they receive one payment.  Also, some of them will take your account number and deduct additional payments from your checking account without your permission.  Anything is possible once you give them your account info.  Talk them into a settlment amount if you actually owe the debt..  If not, then tell them you want written proof of the debts and copies of contracts, invoices, etc.  If they cannot provide these things, theycannot prove the debt.  Be careful
Mar 28, 2013 2:57PM
Our Government has shown us we don't have to pay anyone. You can spend more then you take in. The example has been set by ALL 3 HOUSE'S
May 6, 2013 6:16PM

I recently heard of a practice that is one of the smarmiest ever.


A person declares bankruptcy and debt (like credit cards) is erased. But about ten years later a company you owed money to will sell your forgiven debt for pennies on the dollar to a collection company who will try to collect the bankruptcy forgiven debt.


They may send you a letter or they may call you. If it's a letter do not contact them. However, save the letter in case you need to turn it over to a lawyer or the attorney general in your state. If it is a phone call do not say the word "yes" during the call. They can edit a conversation so it sounds like you are agreeing to make payments to them. Hang up on them but write down the phone number, date, and time of the call.


Let your friends and family about this.


There are other collection companies that will buy your forgiven debt, then send you a bill for a couple hundred dollars. This company is counting on the people thinking that it is such a small sum that fighting it would be too much trouble so they just send the money. Big mistake. That first check sent is a sign that they can contact you every year or so and collect a few hundred dollars each time.

May 6, 2013 5:15PM
Block thier number they wont get through.
May 6, 2013 5:46PM
After 4 years of being out of work, my son has moved back into our house.  He used unemployment to make rent payments on the apartment where he lived, and a credit card in order to eat (since the unemployment check barely covered keeping a roof over his head).  When the unemployment ran out and he had not a single cent left, he moved back.  The credit card company calls nearly every day (including the weekend), hounding him for money that he doesn't have and is unlikely to have in the near future.  They have offered reduced payments and a lower payoff, both useless to someone without ANYTHING but his parents to rely on for protection and food.  They have added penalties upon penalities, also a useless tactic with a man who has NO money and NO job.  We are willing to pay for a bankruptcy, but the only local lawyer that handles them hasn't replied to our phone calls.  I'm getting tired of it.  As the owner of the phone line they use to harrass him, can I stop them from calling?  And how?  They aren't accomplishing anything.  He's not paying the bill because he CAN'T.  It's not because he won't. So, anybody want to hire a 43-year old who's good with computers?
May 6, 2013 7:42PM

I am not an attorney but a very well-worn consumer who has been taken to task by many a collection company. These are the pointers you need to escape ALL of these hounds:

1- ask for a "bill of particulars" this is a legal term which lets the collector know you aren't a new kid in town. they will tell you they don't have to provide one but they do legally.

2- tell them you want to see a copy of the contract you signed to incurr the debt. Many times the credit collector is the fourth or fifth guy to hold the debt and they have no idea who you owed originally. If they do know, ask for a copy of the signature on the contract that bound you to pay.

3- explain how sorry you are that the statute of limitations is passed, and you never did business with the company they refer to

4- tell them you noticed the debt from the  company they mention showed up as a charge-off on your credit profile. once the debt is charged off, they shouldn't collect it because they already took a deduction from their income tax for the debt. i did this with a repossessed car. i told the guy from collections to file a 1099C with the IRS. When the IRS sent me a bill I simply wrote a letter explaining the years had gone by and it was past the statute and they erased the debt.

many collection ompanies are legitimate and if you owe you should agree to settle in some form. Always get an approved contract to settle and deal only with money orders or a secured debit card like Green Dot so no one can trace an account to access more funds. This is a very serious game and your credit is  your life in many cases. Don't be hoodwinked by a collector's guile.


May 6, 2013 7:45PM

I was harrassed by a debt collection agency in Florida.  They called all my phones, cell phones, wife's cell phone, made threats and used profanity.  I did my research and founf that they can't do that and got an great attorny in Chicago (on-line).


It took awhile, but I ended up getting $1000 back instead of paying them $3800. 


I kept the recorded massages they left and documented all the calls and what was said.


It was an awesome feeling to get back at them after what they did!!! 


If the company is harrassing you calling a lot with several phones, threatnening to sue you, and not accepting any kind of payment arrangement, you have a case!  Find a lawyer and go after them!

May 6, 2013 6:50PM

I have gotten calls and letters from collection agencies for debts over 10 years old.  These have all been charged off by the original creditors, and statutes of limitation have long passed - they take on this crap (either by buying the debt for pennies/dollar, or simply buying a list of charged-off debts.) and then try to scare the debtors into paying them (none of the money goes to the original creditor once they have charged it off or "sold" it.)  The other tactic is to coerce people with a "settle for this smaller amount" within 30 days offer...don't buy into that one either.  If you get a letter on an old debt, look around the margins, or on the back, carefully for some really small print, which will say something to the effect that"due to the age of this debt, we cannot/will not sue you".  When you find that sentence, throw the letter away and ignore any further correspondence.  Even if you did pay, the odds of it ever coming off your credit score are close to nil....good luck!!!!

May 6, 2013 7:10PM
It's easy. Ignore them. You have caller ID, just don't answer if you don't recognize the caller.
May 6, 2013 7:06PM
Use debit cards only, scrap credit cards..
May 6, 2013 5:55PM

Do be aware of scammers. It is a growing concern. Older folks are targeted, but so are immigrants and everyone else that may be uninformed or intimidated. Even if you don't owe anything and have done no business with the firm named or alluded to, these  'astards can be relentless. They often  use threats, sometime of violence, or claim to be from the police or FBI. Do record everything you can about these people including what they claim to know about you and report them.



May 6, 2013 7:33PM

I got stuck with my husband's medical bills after he died since I live in a community property state.  He did not have medical insurance and was not old  enough to get Medicare.  Every day, I come home to calls from one specific agency and just delete it since I can not do anything about the bill.  We are talking in excess of $125,000 and they expect me to be able to pay them!!! 

May 6, 2013 6:48PM
This is a crock.  Do not ever contact the debt collector or acknowledge the debt as it will revive the statute of limitations and cause a debt that has been removed from your credit history because of  time lapse to be reinstated.   The only correct thing to tell the guy/gal is ""sue me ". Also contact Legal aid member lawyers who won't charge you more than you owe to the debt collector. A letter from him asking for proof of the debt  will let them know you mean business. 
May 6, 2013 7:39PM

Article says send a payment...whoa I disagree...a payment could extend the statute of limitations - there is an entire industry that tries to collect debt beyond state statutes. Making a payment could also be viewed as acknowledgement a debt - maybe one you don't even owe!

Mar 27, 2013 11:41AM

Do these guys recite this stuff over and over in their head and come to a conclusion that it's true?

Why would the already 'cash-strapped' public want such a fee?

It's no wonder they're 'emerging' out of chapter11. These lame-brained ideas are probably what got them there in the first place.

How about increasing the revenue by increasing the ridership through less greed, less fees which alienates your customers? 

May 6, 2013 7:24PM
There is a certain bank (big name one) that says I owe them money and turn right around and offer me a credit card with $5,000 credit limit. The banks are so greedy, they will give you anything knowing you can't pay it back. IDIOTS They deserve to be taken for a ride.
May 6, 2013 6:02PM

claim bankruptcy.  Before anyone gets their knickers in a knot, that is not what we have done.  However, we know of a number of people who have and they are quite proud of themselves.....hey, look at us, we had every credit card available and charged them to the max - $60,000 +, living the high life.  Some of them are on their 2nd and yes, third time.  According to what they have told us the "7 years" waiting period is a crock of shiz.  They got hold of credit cards after only 1 year.  It's one thing if the cards are needed for emergencies, it's quite another when they are used to purchase anything and everything.....gas, groceries, clothing, vacations, down payments on large items......


May 6, 2013 7:33PM
What about when you don't owe the debt and are not the one they are calling for? I have been getting calls for 4 years now since I got a new number for people I never heard of. Most are robo calls you can't ask questions of.
May 6, 2013 6:49PM
Best action: WRITE them a letter stating the debt is in dispute (assuming it is).  The collector will send it back to the creditor since they cannot make money on disputed bills.
May 6, 2013 7:57PM
I love being in debt - since lots of people care about me now....if I can pay, if I'm alive or whether they can find me?
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