5 Things Debt Collection Services Can't Do
Many people who are struggling with debt find themselves getting calls from a debt collection services, asking them to pay what they owe. Getting calls from collections agencies can be stressful and even embarrassing - but it should not include harassment, threats or other unethical behavior.
Unfortunately, some debt collectors cross the line with overzealous collections efforts. Some debt collections agencies use unethical techniques, harass or verbally abuse people, or otherwise violate the standards of the profession. During 2010, the Federal Trade Commission reported that 140,036 complaints were filed against debt collectors, a 17 percent increase over 2009.
Collections agencies have professional standards and ethical guidelines that they are expected to follow. Even if you are in debt, you still should expect to be treated with professionalism, courtesy and respect.
Debt collection services are in the business of trying to get people to repay their debts, but there are many things that debt collection services cannot ask you to do. Collection agencies have to obey the laws to prevent abusive or harassing debt collection practices.
Here are a few examples of things that debt collection services are not allowed to do as part of collecting your debt:
1. Ignore your requests to verify the debt.
Sometimes collections agencies have bad information about the debts that consumers allegedly owe. Creditors can make mistakes and turn over outdated or inaccurate names or data about debt. If you receive a call from a collection agent asking you to pay a debt that you do not owe - or that you have already repaid - you have a right to ask the collection agency to verify the debt. According to the Code of Ethics of ACA International, the Association of Credit and Collections Professionals, all debt collection services must accept written requests for verification of the debt. Simply put, if a collection agency says that you owe money, they must be able to prove it. If a collections agency cannot verify the debt, they are required to stop trying to collect from you, and they are expected to report the unverified debt to credit reporting agencies in order to get it removed from your credit report.
2. Threaten you or lie to you. Debt collection services are required to be honest and upfront about who they are and what they are doing - that they are a collections agency trying to get you to repay a debt. If a debt collector claims to be from a government agency, an attorney or law enforcement official - or otherwise claims to be someone they are not - they are breaking the law. Also, be suspicious of debt collectors who ask for your Social Security number, bank account numbers or other personal financial details, as they might be fake debt collectors trying to steal your identity.
3. Call you early in the morning or late at night.
If you are receiving collections calls late at odd hours, the debt collection service is breaking the law. Collections agencies are only allowed to call between the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. (unless you agree to talk with them at other times of day).
4. Pester your family and friends. According to the FTC, debt collection services are allowed to contact other people who know you - whether it's family or friends - but only to verify your address, your home phone number and your workplace. However, debt collectors are not allowed to discuss personal details about your debt with anyone but you, your spouse or your attorney. If a debt collector calls your neighbor or your brother or your boss, and tells them how much money you owe, that debt collector is violating the law.
5. Keep contacting you after you ask them to stop. You can make collection agencies stop calling you by sending them a letter asking them to stop. According to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act:
"If a consumer notifies a debt collector in writing that the consumer refuses to pay a debt or that the consumer wishes the debt collector to cease further communication with the consumer, the debt collector shall not communicate further with the consumer with respect to such debt, except - to advise the consumer that the debt collector's further efforts are being terminated; to notify the consumer that the debt collector or creditor may invoke specified remedies which are ordinarily invoked by such debt collector or creditor; or where applicable, to notify the consumer that the debt collector or creditor intends to invoke a specified remedy."
Asking the debt collector to stop contacting you doesn't make your debt go away. Your creditor or the debt collector can still sue you for repayment. But you have the right to request to not be contacted any further, and the debt collectors have to respect your wishes.
Dealing with debt collectors can be trying. But knowing your rights and the limitations of what a debt collector is allowed to do can help it from becoming a nightmare.Indeed, many debt collection services work with people to collaboratively find solutions to debt problems.