Debt Collections, Collection Agencies and Fair Debt Collection Practices
If a debt collector claims you owe a debt, you are subject to all of their collection tools. They may call you at work, at home, and on your cell phone, they will send you demands to pay, contact your neighbors, your boss and co-workers and even show up to your home or work. The industry phrase used by dirty debt collectors is "persistence breaks resistance". These collectors use every possible method to wear you down and create so much stress that you do whatever they ask, so you can get them out of your life. Read the article below to see what you can do to stop debt collectors from harassing you.
I don't owe the debt, but debt collectors keep calling.
Are you being collected on for a debt that you don't owe? Or a debt that is not even yours? It may be a case of mistaken identity by the debt collector or worse, a situation where the debt collector doesn't even listen or actually care that you don't owe the debt being collected on, they just want to be paid. (we have seen both). It could be a debt that was discharged in bankruptcy. Maybe you already paid and closed the account. You could be a victim of identify theft given the rampant data breaches that have compromised nearly everyone's personal information. There are three steps you should take. The first is to do a little investigation
Step 1: Get a free copy of your credit report
Go to annualcreditreport (dot) com, but be careful to go the that exact URL. Avoid the many spoof sites that want your credit card. They are fakes and may be phishing for your information. The actual free site allows you one free credit report each year from each of the credit reporting agencies. It makes sense to pull one free copy every four months, alternating between the three credit reporting agencies. Download (and save) your copy and review it carefully for any errors. Do you see the debt being collected upon listed on your credit report? If not, this is a possible red flag that there isn't a debt owed and that the debt collector is a scammer. If you do see the debt listed on your credit report, then most likely a legitimate debt collector is making the calls, and you are either a victim of identity theft or the debt collector has bad information.
Step 2: Dispute the Debt
You may not owe the debt or may not owe the amount sought. By law, you can (and we strongly recommend that you do) dispute the debt you are being asked to pay. To dispute the debt, the burden is on you to write to the debt collector within 30 days of receipt of the first letter they send. If you do not recognize the debt being collected, you should ask for proof, like a credit application, account statements or other records of the credit account. You must put your dispute in writing. Be direct and clear in your letter. Be fair. Don't try to sound like a lawyer or a know it all. And don't be tempted to bully back against the debt collector. Your letter might be used in court. Keep copies of what you send and keep proof of mailing.
Document any abusive contact by the debt collector in your letter. They must stop collection calls until they respond in writing.
The debt collector has 30 days to respond. If you aren't satisfied with the proof you received, then you can write to the debt collector telling them you refuse to pay the debt. Contact us for a Free Case Review.
Step 3: Hire the Best Consumer Protection Lawyer
If the debt collectors don't stop collecting on the debt, find the best lawyer for you. Avoid hiring a far-away lawyer who claims to have offices in every state. Sometimes these are just lead generators looking for a piece of the attorney fee for a referral. That's not ethical. You should get a call back from a lawyer, not a legal intake coordinator or some other non-attorney. If you aren't sure, ask. Here are some other questions to consider. Are you going to personally handle my case? How many consumer protection cases have you actually tried to a jury? Don't be afraid to ask, why should I hire you? Trust your instincts and hire a lawyer who you feel comfortable with, one you can trust.
I Owe the Debt, Do I Have Any Rights Against Debt Collectors?
In short, yes, you do. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act was specifically created to help borrowers owing consumer debt to debt collectors. Here is what you need to know:
Debt Collectors Must Provide You Validation Notice
Debt collectors 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.
You Have the Right to Demand Debt Verification
You have a right to write the debt collector and demand the name of the original creditor, proof of the account and proof of the alleged amount owed. The burden is on you to write the debt collector within 30 days of the Validation Notice. When you write the debt collector tell them exactly why you dispute the debt, i.e. (the account was paid in full, the account was settled with a previous debt collector, the account is not mine, I do not owe the amount demanded) Send your letter by certified mail. Send copies of any important records that establish what you are telling them. Be firm, polite and fair. Keep copies of everything you send.
You Can Demand They Stop Further Collection
You have a right to force the debt collector to stop calling you at work or to stop calling you to collect the debt. To take advantage of your right, you should tell them when they call, ask them to document your request in their notes and following up by telling them in writing. There are no magic words, just tell them to stop contacting you. Include the account number used by the debt collector in your letter and tell them clearly to “Cease and Desist” collection on the account. If you have felt harassed or subject to abuse, put the details in your letter. The debt collector must stop calling, but they retain the right to file suit against you.
You have the right to be free from Abuse or Harassment, including :
- Threats of violence or harm;
- Obscene or profane language; and
- Repeated use of the phone to annoy or harass.
Debt Collectors may not lie or mislead you:
Debt Collectors love to use fear and to create a false sense of urgency. Once they create fear in you, they use your fear to take control and force you to do things you never would have considered doing. Don't fall victim to lies and deception. Debt collectors that violate fair debt collection laws routinely lie and mislead:
- Falsely threaten arrest;
- Claim that they are from law enforcement;
- Falsely claim that you have committed a crime;
- Misrepresent the amount you owe;
- Indicate that papers they send you are from a court when they are not;
- Falsely claim that a lawsuit will be filed against you if it cannot be due to the passage of time; or,
- Threaten suit if they don't intend to sue (many debt collectors never sue)
- You will be arrested if you don't pay your debt.
- They'll garnish your wages or seize, attach, or sell your property, unless they are permitted by law to take such action and intend to do so.
What debt collectors can do:
If you owe a debt, debt collectors can take reasonable steps to collect the debt, including calling you a reasonable number of times seeking payment and payment agreements. They can show up at reasonable times at your work or home, unless you tell them to stay away or to stop collecting on the debt. Debt collectors can call you during limited hours during the day, but only a reasonable number of times.
What You Should Never Do:
Be wary of "debt settlement scams" often posing as lawyers or law firms. Do not hire a for profit debt settlement service that expects you to stop paying your credit cards and instead to give your money to them. Be suspicious of anyone who claims they can assist in fixing your credit or settling your debts, especially if they claim to have an "inside connection" with the companies you owe.
Why You Should Consider Talking to a Consumer Protection Lawyer Today
Many debt collectors don't listen and don't care – they only stop harassment if they get sued. Don't delay. Federal law requires you to file suit within one year of the violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Some states have specific protections for victims of abuse debt collection. Unfortunately, neither Oklahoma or New Mexico has taken steps to specifically outlaw debt collection bullies, but the courts have created claims to address debt collector harassment and abuse. You'll need an experienced debt collection harassment lawyer. And you do not want to bury your head in fear, the time to sue under state law varies from two years in Oklahoma and up to four years in New Mexico.
Contact us for a Free Case Review
WHY YOU SHOULD CONTACT US
We are Nationally Recognized Debt Collection Harassment Lawyers. Our work has been the subject of national interest and we are known by our peers in consumer protection law and by the debt collection industry.
We teach other lawyers how to maximize the value of their clients' cases at state and national conferences.
We have been honored with awards nationwide for our work protecting consumers.
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