Debt Collector Do's and Don'ts

This story originally aired on January 19, 2007.

Debt Collectors Can:

Contact a third party to find out where you live, what your phone number is and where you work. But they may not tell anyone else that you owe money or the amount, and they can't contact the party more than once.

Contact you by mail, telephone, telegram or fax, but only between the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. unless you agree to extended hours.

Debt Collectors Can't:

Use threats of violence and harm, or obscene and profane language.

Publish a list of consumers who refuse to pay their debts, except to a credit bureau.

Repeatedly call to annoy someone.

Imply they're attorneys or represent the government, or that they work for a credit bureau.

Call you at work if the collector knows your employer disapproves.

Imply that you've committed a crime.

Lie or misrepresent the amount you owe.

Fail to tell you whether papers being sent to you are legal documents or not.

Tell you'll be arrested if you don't pay your debt.

Tell you they'll seize your property or garnish your wages, unless the creditor actually plans to and legally can.

Say you'll be sued if they don't actually plan to or can't legally.

Give false credit information about you to anyone, including a credit bureau.

Send you a notice that looks like an official document from a government agency or court if it's not.

Deposit a post-dated check early.

Lie to make you accept collect calls or pay for telegrams.

Contact you by postcard.

What you should do when faced with an abusive debt collector?

Write a letter to the collector telling them to stop contacting you; make sure to send it by certified mail. The collector can't contact you again unless the creditor plans to take specific action, such as filing a lawsuit, against you.

If you think the collector is wrong, send a letter to the creditor saying you don't owe the money within 30 days of being contacted.

You can sue a collector in state or federal court within one year from the date of the incident.

Record abusive phone calls and messages to document the abuse and violation of the law.

Report any problems with your state Attorney General's office and the Federal Trade Commission.