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If you owe a sizable amount of money to creditors — and in today’s rough economic climate, many people do — you’ve undoubtedly run into collection agencies, the companies that your creditors hire to get you to pay up.
Your creditors are well within their rights to hire collection agencies. And these agencies are legally allowed to call you when you owe money. But collection agencies do have to follow certain rules, and they’re not allowed to harass consumers.
Unfortunately, collection agencies are rather notorious for using threats, intimidation and other shady practices to coerce consumers to pay up.
If you owe money, and if you’re dealing with regular calls from collection agencies, it’s important to know your rights. If you do, you can quickly identify collection agency behavior that crosses the line. And you can then take action to stop the harassment.
The Federal Trade Commission enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, a federal law that prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair or deceptive practices to collect the money owed to the companies for which they are working.
If you think that a collection agency has been harassing you, you can report that company to your state’s attorney general’s office and the Federal Trade Commission.
Debt collectors are not allowed to harass you by calling multiple times in one day or by calling at unreasonable hours. This is a bit unclear, but in general these agencies shouldn’t be calling you before 8 a.m. or after 8 p.m.
Debt collectors are allowed to contact your relatives, employers and neighbors but only to find out your address, home phone number and place of employment so that they may contact you. They are not allowed to discuss your financial situation with other people.
The federal law also forbids collection agencies from pretending to be attorneys, law enforcement officials or anything other than a collection agency. Agencies also can’t threaten to have you thrown in prison for not paying your bills; the United States does not have debtors’ prisons. You can’t go to jail for not paying your credit card bill or for skipping out on a hospital bill.
Collection agencies are not allowed, either, to use intimidating tactics while speaking to you on the phone. This means that they can’t scream at you, swear at you or threaten you with bodily harm.
Ending the Calls
You can stop a collection agency from calling you if you send the debt collector a letter stating that you don’t owe the money you are accused of not paying. However, if the credit determines that you actually do owe this money, the collection agency can begin calling you again.
A collection agency is also required to provide you with a validation notice within five days after they initially contact you. This notice spells out how much money you owe and to what credit you owe these dollars. The notice tells you, too, what steps you can take if you don’t think you actually owe this money.
It’s important when you’re dealing with collection agencies to know your rights. Owing money is never a pleasant feeling. But you can ease at least some of the stress by preventing collection agencies from employing harassing tactics against you.