In last week’s column, I gave an overview of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and some of the things that a collector can and cannot do.
Today, I want to go into more detail about practices that are off limits for debt collectors, including harassment, false statements and unfair practices. Some specific things they cannot do include:
• Use threats of violence or use obscene language
• Publish a list of names of people who don’t pay their debts
• Falsely claim you have committed a crime
• Misrepresent the amount of money you owe
• Lie about whether a document is official or a legal form
• Threaten you with arrest, sieze your assets or garnish wages unless they are permitted by law
• Threaten you with legal action if doing so would be illegal or if they don’t intend to actually do it
• Try to collect interest, fees or other charges on top of what you owe unless state law or the contract that created your debt allows the charge
• Deposit a post-dated check early
• Contact you by postcard or other means that can outwardly be identified as coming from a debt collector
When you are dealing with a collection agency, keep track of all the calls you receive and save all written statements. Do not give out personal or financial information until you have confirmed that the collection agency is legitimate.
If you can work out a deal to pay monthly or reduce your owed debt, get the details any promises documented in writing. If you set up automatic drafts, you should consider opening a new checking account that will be used only for that purpose. This will prevent the collector from drafting more than the agreed upon amount. When you pay off your debt, make sure you get and save documentation of the resolved debt.
What should you do if a debt collector sues you? First, do not ignore a lawsuit summons. A debt collector can sue you to collect a debt and a court judgement can result in third parties such as your bank or employer turning over funds to pay the debt. If you do not show up in court, you lose your chance to fight garnishment. Make sure you or your lawyer respond to a lawsuit by the date in the court papers.
If you think a debt collector has broken the law in their dealings with you, you have one year from the violation to sue. You can also file complaints with the Better Business Bureau, Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Remember that even if the debt collector violates the law, a legitimate debt still does not go away.
Kelvin Collins is the president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia & the CSRA Inc. For questions or complaints about a company, call (800) 763-4222.