What to Do If a Debt Collector Calls You?

A person on the phone discussing the bills in their hand with a computer in from them.

Debt Collectors Keep Calling Me!

No one likes getting calls from debt collection calls. Owing money to a group of strangers who have all of your personal information can be frightening and stressful. But why do debt collectors call?

You typically only receive debt collection calls when a debt collector is trying to collect debts owed. Collection agencies buy past-due debts from creditors or other businesses and try to get you to repay them.

When debt collectors call you, it’s important to respond in ways that will protect your legal rights. Be sure to remember the following information the next time a debt collector reaches out to you.

Understand Debt Collection Call Laws

Debt Collection Practices Act

Bad behavior from debt collectors has plagued the debt collection industry for years. To curb this behavior, a federal law named Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) was passed in 1978.

This act presents many rules and restrictions that debt collection agencies must follow. Here is what a debt collector can not do when they try to collect: 

  • Call you outside the hours of 8am – 9pm, Monday-Saturday (not on Sunday)
  • Call you repeatedly within a short period
  • Threaten you with violence
  • Discuss your personal information or debts with other people
  • Claim false debts or false information on your credit report
  • Cannot lie about their identity
  • Keep calling if you send letters asking them to stop in writing

Despite legal strides to protect consumers, it’s common for some debt collectors to violate collection calls under federal law. That’s why it’s important to proceed carefully whenever a debt collector contacts you.

Your response to a debt collector should be different based on who is calling.

If the original creditor or business that you owe money to contacts you, FDCPA laws do not bind them. However, they may be bound by local and state laws that are similar to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Third-party debt collectors are also known for charging consumers with “zombie debt,” or trying to collect a debt that is old, past the statute of limitations, or has already been paid off. These parties resurrect these old debts in an attempt to scam consumers. To avoid falling victim to these claims, there are several steps you can take to prepare yourself.

Debt collector calling client to collect debts and the client is pulling their head trying to figure out what to do to not fall into debt collector deceptive practices.

Here’s what to do if a debt collector calls you:

Take Notes

When a bill collector contacts you, your first order of business is to take notes. Whether you prefer pen-and paper, spreadsheets, or screenshots, having a paper trail and proof of their communication is one of the most valuable tools you can have when disputing charges.

Some questions and notes to consider keeping track of include:

  • The name of the debt collectors who called you
  • What debt collection agencies or company they represent
  • When they called
  • A mailing address to send written correspondence to a certified mail address.
  • What you discussed
  • Any requests made

Do not overlook this step! It’s important that you document every debt collection process when you have contact with a debt collector in the event you need to protect your legal rights.

Don’t Admit You Owe Past-Due Debts

The most important tip to remember when responding to a debt collector is to avoid admitting or confirming any information without first having debt validation. Before you do anything else, start by writing a debt validation letter. If you say or do anything that confirms that the debt is yours, you may be giving up some of your legal rights.

Collection agencies often make mistakes, so it is important to confirm that the debt is the correct amount, that it truly belongs to you or is not expired past the legal amount of time it can be held against you. The only way to confirm this is through writing.

Most delinquent debts expire and must be legally removed from your credit report after 7 years. A collector can still try to get you to repay debts older than this with deceptive practices, but they can’t use negative credit reporting to credit reporting agencies as a collection tactic.

Don’t Make Any Payments or Promises

Promising to make future payments or providing a collector with your financial information can have the same effect as admitting to owing debt. Any payment you send or offer to pay will “re-affirm” that you owe the debt, and legally allow the collector to report the delinquent debt to the credit reporting agencies.

It is in your best interest to withhold any payment information until you’ve confirmed that the debt is real. Additionally, some debts asked for may be past the statute of limitations or legal period that a business can ask that the court compels you to pay your delinquent debt.

Even if you agree to pay off a debt, buy a cashier’s check. Never provide them with any documents that disclose your bank account number.

Ask for a Debt Validation Letter

A debt validation letter is the best way to find out what debt collectors you owe and how much you need to pay. This can include both the original debt amount and any extra fees the collection agency is adding.

When a collector first contacts you, they are required by law to follow up with a written letter about the debt they are collecting. This is known as a debt validation letter.

If the debt collectors do not respond with a written validation letter within 5 days of contacting you, you have up to 30 days to send a verification letter requesting a validation letter.

Validating a debt goes beyond the fact that you owe a debt; it also confirms the amount is correct, the age of the debt is correct, and that the collector has the legal right to collect the debt. This letter is also an excellent source of information for you to use in your research on debt collectors.

This validation will protect you from debt collectors illegally re-aging a debt to make it seem more current than it is, or changing the amount you owe by adding on extra fees. The collector must show:

  • Documentation proving that you agreed to the debt
  • A written agreement with your signature on it
  • Information from the original creditor with whom you made that agreement

If you’re unsure about whether to ask for debt validation, you can talk to a financial counselor who will review the situation with you and answer any questions you may have.

Keep it Professional

How you handle collection agency calls is just as important as confirming that you owe a debt. Like any other legal or financial proceeding, keeping conversations professional and impersonal will protect you both emotionally and legally.

Do not let the collector drive the conversation to an emotional place, if they start to threaten or accuse you, shut down the conversation. Tell them you know your rights under the FDCPA and you will not tolerate any abuse.

Also, be sure not to become abusive yourself. If you get heated and use strong language, it will weaken your case in the event of an FDCPA claim.

Don’t Provide Any Personal or Financial Information

Debt collectors will want to find out as much as they can about your finances, but you should not disclose anything until you receive validation of your debt. This will protect you from assuming responsibility before discovering whether it is legally yours or not.

However, if you’ve received the validation letter and still don’t feel you owe the debt, speak up. Even if it is unintentional, collectors may make several mistakes before pursuing you for debt, such as:

  • Pursuing debts that have already been paid off
  • Pursuing accounts that were created with identity fraud
  • Charging the wrong amount

It may appear to the collector that you legitimately owe the debt, but you should stand firm if the debt was created illegitimately.

If the debt is fully valid but you don’t know how to deal with debt collectors when you can’t pay, talk with one of our trained counselors to decide which plan of action is best for you.

If the debt is fully valid but you can’t afford to repay it, you can talk about this with the collector, and try to offer a settlement. Find out more about debt settlement.

Look Out for Debt Collector Scams

Some debt collection activity is fraudulent, and can only be spotted by following these steps. It’s important to take a hard look at every collection call you receive to avoid falling victim to a scam.

Scammers can be very sophisticated and may appear legitimate, even to the trained eye. Keep an eye out for any red flags, be careful what you disclose, follow up on all legal documentation, and make sure that all of the information you are given is correct.

Here are signs that it could be a debt collector scam:

  • They violate the FDCPA. Visit the Federal Trade Commission’s site to look over the protections offered by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Never agree to work with any collector who willfully violates any part of this law.
  • They demand payment on a very short timeline. If a collector demands payment by the end of the day, they’re likely to be scammers. It’s reasonable for any collector to have a deadline for repayment, but if the timeline is very short, you should be suspicious.
  • They can’t give you details about the debt. If a collector truly owns the debt, or if they were assigned the debt by your creditor, they should be able to know where the debt originated, how much is owed, and any other similar details. They should also be able to provide these details in writing.
  • They demand unusual payment methods. You should have multiple options for how you can repay a debt (and the only one you should use is a cashier’s check). If a collector wants you to send gift cards in the amount of the debt owed, you’re being scammed.

What to Do if a Debt Collector Sues You?

What happens if you don’t pay debt collectors? A collection agency may turn to the courts to legally compel you to pay or garnish your wages.

Here at Credit.org, we do not offer legal advice. If a collector sues you for repayment of outstanding debt, get qualified legal advice from an attorney.

What to do About Debt Collector Calls?

If you’re ready to stop collection calls, it’s important to know your options and work to get out of debt fast. When debt collectors call, you don’t have to go it alone. Our debt counselors are here to help you with the debts you have. Find out more about the services we offer and get started today!

Article written by
Melinda Opperman
Melinda Opperman is an exceptional educator who lives and breathes the creation and implementation of innovative ways to motivate and educate community members and students about financial literacy. Melinda joined credit.org in 2003 and has over two decades of experience in the industry.

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