If you use credit cards, owe money on a personal loan or are paying on a home mortgage, you are a debtor. If you fall behind in repaying your creditors or an error is made on your accounts, you may be contacted by a debt collector. A debt collector is any person who regularly collects debts owed to others, including attorneys who collect debts on a regular basis.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires that debt collectors treat you fairly and prohibits certain methods of debt collection. Of course, the law does not erase any legitimate debt you owe. 

Debt Collector Makes Contact
A collector may contact you in person, by mail, telephone or fax. However, a debt collector may not contact you at inconvenient times or places, such as before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you agree. A debt collector also may not contact you at work if the collector knows that your employer disapproves of such contacts.

You can stop a debt collector from contacting you by writing a letter to the collector telling them to stop. Once the collector receives your letter, they may not contact you again except to say there will be no further contact or to notify you that the debt collector or the creditor intends to take some specific action. Please note, however, that sending such a letter to a collector does not make the debt go away if you actually owe it. You could still be sued by the debt collector or your original creditor.

If you have an attorney, the debt collector must contact the attorney rather than you. If you do not have an attorney, a collector may contact other people, but only to find out where you live, what your phone number is and where you work. Collectors usually are prohibited from contacting such third parties more than once. In most cases, the collector may not tell anyone other than you and your attorney that you owe money.

Within five days after you are first contacted, the collector must send you a written notice telling you:

  • The amount of  money you owe
  • The name of the creditor to whom you owe the money
  • What action to take if you believe you do not owe the money

A collector may not contact you if, within 30 days after you receive the written notice, you send the collection agency a letter stating you do not owe money. However, a collector can renew collection activities if you are sent proof of the debt, such as a copy of a bill for the amount owed.

Prohibited Debt Collector Practice
Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, debt collectors may not:

  • Harass, oppress, or abuse you or any third parties they contact
  • Use any false or misleading statements when collecting a debt
  • State that you will be arrested if you do not pay your debt
  • State that they will seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages, unless the collection agency or creditor intends to do so, and it is legal to do so
  • State that actions, such as a lawsuit, will be taken against you, when such action legally may not be taken or when they do not intend to take such action
  • Give false credit information about you to anyone, including a credit bureau
    Send you anything that looks like an official document from a court or government agency when it is not
  • Use a false name
  • Engage in unfair practices when they try to collect a debt.

When a debt collector violates the law, you have the right to sue a collector in a state or federal court within one year from the date the law was violated. If you win, you may recover money for the damages you suffered plus an additional amount up to $1,000. Court costs and attorney' s fees also can be recovered. A group of people also may sue a debt collector and recover money for damages up to $500,000, or one percent of the collector' s net worth, whichever is less.

You can also report any problems you have with a debt collector to the Attorney General's office and the Federal Trade Commission. Both offices work for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them.