Know your debt collection rights

I'm a firm believer that those who owe money should pay it. If a debt collector calls you about a legitimate debt you owe, it's not automatically harassment. It's not necessarily unfair for the debt collector to inquire about how and when you're going to be paying what you owe. You borrowed the money, you should pay it back.

However, there are debt collectors who violate the law when it comes to contacting you about your debt. It's important to know your rights so that you can be protected from those who abuse the people who owe money. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act sets forth the rules that debt collectors must follow, and the rules are pretty cut and dry.

Your debts include things like credit cards, home mortgages, auto loans, personal loans, medical bills, and the like. Debt collectors cannot:

  • Contact you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. unless you agree to allow them to do so.
  • Contact you at work if the debt collector knows your employer prohibits it.
  • Contact you after you write a letter asking them to stop contacting you. (This doesn't get rid of your responsibility to pay the debt, however.)
  • Contact others about your debt, except your attorney.
  • Threaten you with violence or harm, or swear at you
  • Lie to you about the debt, who they are, or how much you owe
There are other rules that protect you against false statements by debt collectors. They are not supposed to make false claims about garnishing your wages or seizing assets, and so it's important to know what your rights are in regard to your debts. If you believe a debt collector has violated the law, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.
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