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4 steps to get debt collectors off your back

Are debt collector calls causing you to lose sleep? Here are four steps to stop the calls and get on with your life.

By MSN Money Partner Jul 16, 2014 12:35PM

This post comes from Maryalene LaPonsie at partner site Money Talks News

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyThe next time you're in a room with six other people, look around. One of you is probably being hounded by a debt collector.

An April report from the Center for Responsible Lending found that 1 in 7 Americans is on the receiving end of debt collection activities. More concerning is the fact that some of these consumers may not owe the debt at all. Accounts are bought and sold, and balances may be incorrectly stated, or settled accounts erroneously listed as in default.

If you've found yourself on the receiving end of debt collection calls -- regardless of whether the debt is valid -- you'll want to know the four steps to stop abusive debt collection practices.

Step 1: Ask for proof of the debt

When a new debt collector contacts you, your first step should always be to ask for proof of the debt.

A popular scam involves collection calls for debt that doesn't even exist. In other cases, third parties buy debts that may have been previously settled or paid off. The Federal Trade Commission says this about what debt collectors must send you to verify the legitimacy of a debt:

Every collector must send you a written "validation notice" telling you how much money you owe within five days after they first contact you. This notice also must include the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money, and how to proceed if you don't think you owe the money.

After receiving the validation notice, you have 30 days to dispute the validity of the debt. For example, send a copy of the settlement agreement (you did get that in writing, didn't you?) or other documentation if applicable.

Step 2: Stop letting them ruin your day

Nothing puts a damper on your day quite like a debt collection call. Regardless of whether it's a valid debt, get off the phone with these people.

Rather than experience that sinking feeling every time the phone rings, ask them to communicate with you in writing. Under federal law, they have to comply. If they don't, see Step 4.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has several sample letters on its website that you can use to request that a collector contact you only by mail, through your attorney or by phone at certain hours.

Step 3: File a complaint about abusive behavior

Let's say the collector continues to call even after you've asked them to stop. Or maybe they're calling your neighbors and telling them you owe a bad debt. Both can be illegal and both should be reported to the government.

 Worried man © CorbisAccording to the Federal Trade Commission, debt collectors are prohibited by law from doing any of the following, among other things:

  • Calling before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. unless you have agreed to early or late calls.
  • Making threats, using obscenity or calling repeatedly to annoy you.
  • Publishing a list of individuals with outstanding debts.
  • Falsely claiming to be a lawyer or someone who works for a government agency.
  • Discussing your debt with anyone other than you, your spouse and your attorney.
  • Claiming you have committed a crime or will be arrested.

If a debt collector does any of the above, let them know you are aware of your rights and will be filing a complaint. Then do so by sending all of the details of the interaction, including the collector's name, date of contact and specific statements made to the attorney general's office in your state, the Federal Trade Commission or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Step 4: Get a lawyer

Finally, if that doesn't work, it may be time to lawyer up.

Federal law allows you to sue a debt collector for abusive behavior, and you could be awarded $1,000, or possibly more, in damages, plus attorney's fees. That doesn't eliminate the debt if you actually owe it, but it should put a stop to incessant calls and any threatening behavior.

If enough other people are having problems with the same collector, you could file a class-action lawsuit and get up to $500,000 in damages.

Some consumer attorneys will take these cases for free, but you have to have great documentation. If you sent a "do not call" letter, it should have a return receipt so you can prove the collector got it. If the company is being abusive on the phone, keep a log to record the time of every call, the person you spoke to and what they said.

To find a free lawyer, look for consumer attorneys who offer free consultations.

Of course, the best way to get debt collectors off your back is to stay out of debt in the first place. However, even debt-free people can erroneously end up on the calling list of abusive collectors.

Have you had a nightmare debt collection experience?

More from Money Talks News

Jul 16, 2014 8:31PM
I wish it did solve the problem. But, a lot of times, the shysters are trying to collect on bills that you never owed in the first place.
Jul 17, 2014 8:56AM
Interesting! - I'm on the other end. In 2010, I did work for a U.S. Senator for his re election and he lost the election. He's a lawyer and owes me $4,500 and I have tried everything to get paid. He told me to take him to court (?) There no dispute, he admits he owes me the money but just ignores me and won't pay.  So I have to hire a lawyer to take a lawyer to court? Why doesn't he just pay his bill? 
Jul 17, 2014 9:19AM

Step 5. If the debt(s) collection agencies are based in the Bahamas or any other country...Well, you're sh#t of out luck.

Jul 17, 2014 10:26AM
Simple...screen calls...cut them off with remote....If not a known number calling cut it before answering with auto cut off..
Jul 17, 2014 10:51AM
Answer the call.  Tell them, "If you have my phone number, you have my address, put your claims/demands in writing." - Then, document, document, DOCUMENT!!!  Whether legit or scam, you cannot/may not,  know the difference from a phone call.  Put the responsibility on them to prove justification for their calling/contact(s).
Jul 17, 2014 12:02PM
I was getting robo debt collection calls when I have no debt, figured that unless someone calls in person it's probably a scam.
Jul 17, 2014 12:04PM
I just received a phone-call(robo-call) claiming I am in arrears on my credit card and need to make arrangements to correct the matter.  Well, I have no credit card.  However, this call reminds me that this is another practice used by so-called "collection agencies" to contact and harass consumers.  The article tells us how to deal with collection agents, but fails to address the fact that although complaints are lodged against these agencies, nothing ever seems to be done to effectively stop them or their practices.  What good are laws that seem to be unenforceable?  It rankles me when I think of how many laws are in effect to halt criminal behavior but don't seem to ever be enforced.  It seems all we see are more and more laws, regulations, policies that continually oppress honest, hard-working people, who will grudgingly abide by them, while laws to stop illegal behavior are unenforced - example: illegal immigration, corporate fraud, federal agency misconduct, and presidential use of executive orders, just to name a few.  The federal government is impotent and ineffectual and needs to be changed.  Where's a leader that can lead us back to the nation we were meant to be?
Jul 17, 2014 10:15AM
My dentist retired and turned all of his accounts over to a collection agency.  My account had been paid in full by my insurance company.  They provided their documentation and I provided it to the "collection agency" ... to no avail.  They had 'bought' the false paper and intended to collect.  On more than one occasion I was told they didn't care ... the only way to get it erased was to pay in full a SECOND time.   I forwarded all documentation to the 'gubmnt agency' ... to no avail.  They 'damaged my credit' (as they had threatened) by reporting it to the three credit agencies.  EACH year, for seven years, I contested it - with documentation.  After seven years it rolls off.  Not in my case ... I had to write to each agency and the 'gubmnt agency' and inform them that the false charge was over 7 years old.  Finally it disappeared. 
Jul 17, 2014 2:18PM
Don't borrow money you can't pay back and you'll never hear from a debt collector. Funny, you borrow someone else's  money, don't pay it back and the guy attempting to get you to pay is the creep? Millions of dead beats who don't pay back borrowed money  and all debt collectors have to do is go after people who don't owe anybody money, these clowns and their B.S. stories are hilarious.
Jul 17, 2014 11:38AM
I see comments demeaning people who have debt in collections.  In many situations these comments may be justified, but certainly not all.  There are extenuating circumstances in many cases that result in debt going to collections - some justifiable, others questionable.  Case in point:  I know a young married couple, just starting out, with two pre-school children.  Dad is working, but employer does not provide medical insurance and he does not make enough to buy his own.  Mom is a "stay-at-home-mom" because the cost of daycare is too high to justify her working out of the home.  Dad needs emergency surgery and can't work for a time - now no income at all.  Within five days after dad's release from the hospital - before they even receive a statement listing the medical costs - the medical facility turns the bill over to "collections".  Attempts to make arrangements with the hospital are met with "its turned over to collections, you have to deal with them."  Collections says "you have to pay this much a month", which is way more than the family can afford.  So, the debt lays there.  The collection company harrasses the family with demanding phone calls filled with unreasonable demands, profanity, and threats.  The collection company files a judgment against the family and begins garnishment of Dad's wages which causes the dad to have inadequate funds to pay rent and utilities bills.  Eventually, the family files bankruptcy to stop the actions of the collection agency.  So, from this you can see there are scenarios that set the stage for collection agencies to engage in their abusive practices.  "So, why didn't the family use the process stated in this article", you might ask.  Well, this information is not readily available, especially if you do not know what to look for.  Unfortunately, this fact makes it possible for collection agencies to use their illegal, unethical, abusive practices on consumers - whether the collection process is justified or not.
Jul 17, 2014 1:48PM
Isn't that ugly woman's picture on the hundred dollar bill?
Jul 17, 2014 8:59AM
If someone has a habit of buying things they can't afford, and then not paying for them, how does that make the debt collector a bad guy?  We all pay more for everything because we have to help carry the cost of having so many deadbeats around.
Jul 17, 2014 11:04AM
tell them that one more call and they'll be swimming with the fish in the deep ocean depths.
Jul 17, 2014 1:39PM
Do you want to stop debt collectors from calling you? There is a revolutionary new system out there that works 100% of the time to prevent debt collectors from harassing you. It is called "pay your bills". No one forced you to take on any debt. You chose to take it on yourself. You also promised the debtor that you would pay the money back at certain times, usually in monthly payments. Are most bill collectors scum? Yes they are, but if you owe the money, it is your fault they are calling you. If you cannot pay cash for something, then you truly cannot afford it. Only a 15 year house mortgage, where the monthly payment is less than 25% of your monthly take home pay, is a sensible loan to borrow.
Jul 16, 2014 3:16PM
Pay your damned bills.  Problem solved.
Jul 17, 2014 1:28PM
avatar your bills!...Leave it to liberal obama propaganda organization MSN to give advice to deadbeats on how to dodge paying what they owe.
Jul 17, 2014 9:56AM
Get and IP phone device and change your number every few months.  Live in a trailer with no address.  Don't work anywhere.
There,  they'll never get you...........unless they are the IRS,  then they will anyway.

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