Managing debt can be an all-consuming anxiety fest, but just in case you try to put your mounting debt out of sight and out of mind, there will always be debt collectors to remind you.
While most debt collectors have a legitimate job to do, many employ shady, abrasive, and even illegal tactics to get borrowers to fulfill their financial obligations. You do have to pay your debts, but you do not have to tolerate harassment from debt collectors, the Federal Trade Commission says.
Watch this video about Debt Collector Do’s and Don’ts:
According to the FTC, debt collectors may not do the following:
- Contact you at inconvenient times before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m unless you agree
- Contact you at work if the collector is aware that your employer prohibits it
- Harass, oppress, or abuse you or any third parties they contact
- Use threats of violence or harm
- Use obscene or profane language
- Repeatedly use the phone to annoy someone
- Make false claims that they are attorneys or government representatives
- Claim that you have committed a crime
- Falsely represent that they operate or work for a credit reporting company
- Misrepresent the amount you owe
- Threaten that you will be arrested if you don’t pay your debt
Debt collectors generate the greatest number of consumer complaints, and the FTC continually works to put a stop to fake and disreputable debt collection. But still, millions of consumers withstand the bullying fearing they have no other options or recourse.
Lest you think you can get rid of them altogether, you still have to face the music. Debt collectors can contact you in person, by mail, telephone, telegram, or fax. They can even contact other people you know, but only to find out your home phone number and where you work. But, even if they contact a third party, they cannot discuss your debt with anyone but you, your spouse or your attorney.
Once a debt collector makes contact with you, they are required to mail a written validation notice within five days that tells you how much you owe, who you owe, and how to pay or dispute your debt. If you want to argue the existence or amount of your debt, you can send a letter asking for verification, and the debt collector is required to stop calling you.
If you ignore debt collectors altogether, yes, you can be sued, and your wages can be garnished, but only upon court order. You also have the right to sue as long as you act within one year from the date a debt collector violated a law. Depending on the court judgment, collectors may be required to pay you for lost wages, medical or legal bills, court fees or any damages you incur due to their illegal practices. Even so, you will still have to pay any legitimate debts you owe.
Read more FTC frequently asked questions about debt collectors .