10 ways to fight back
against a debt collector
Hang up. A debt collector has
no right to threaten, harass or insult you. If they do, hang up the phone.
you can't do it right now, you can't do it right now," says Samantha Spragg,
a former debt collector in West St. Paul, Minn. "Don't even argue with people.
Just hang up."
your bills. No matter what a debt collector says, an unpaid credit card
bill is not the most important bill you have to pay this month. Providing necessities
for your family comes first. Bankrate.com has 16
rules will help you prioritize your debts.
your rights. When collecting a debt from you, a debt collector must play
fair. For details, check out the consumer brochure
on fair debt collection from the Federal Trade Commission.
have their own debt collection laws. For more information, contact
the attorney general's office in your state.
for a supervisor. Request that you speak to a manager or supervisor at
the debt collection company. Make it clear that you understand your rights under
the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and you want the abuse to stop.
don't threaten the smart ones. You pick and choose your victims for lack of a
better term," says Michael Flannagan, a former debt collection supervisor
in Tacoma, Wash. "We rely on the ignorance of the debtor."
an attorney. Once you have an attorney, a debt collector must contact the
attorney, rather than you. An attorney may be able to answer questions regarding
your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and specific debt collection
laws in your state. To find an attorney near you, visit the Web site of the National
Association of Consumer Advocates and search
for an attorney with expertise in debt collection in your area.
proof. If a debt collector is breaking the law and harassing you,
you'll need evidence.
"If it's legal in your state, you can tape the
conversation," says Steve Tripoli, a consumer advocate with the National
Consumer Law Center.
states and the District of Columbia allow you to secretly tape your phone
You'll also want to keep a paper trail. File all collection
letters and keep detailed notes of collection calls. Note the day and time of
each call, the name of the collection agency, the first and last name of the caller
and what was said.
Stop contact. The Fair
Debt Collection Practices Act gives you the right to cease contact with a debt
collector. You can stop a debt collector from contacting you by writing a letter
to the collector and telling them to stop.
A phone call won't work. "If
they said 'Don't call anymore,' we'd set it up for the next day to call,"
It's a good idea to send the letter certified mail, so you'll
have proof that the debt collector received it. 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. Sending a letter to a collector will not make a debt go
away if you owe the money. The debt collector or your original creditor may still
If you don't owe the money, dispute the
debt. A debt collector must send you written notice telling you the amount
of money you owe and the name of the creditor. If within 30 days of receiving
this notice you send a debt collector a letter stating you do not owe the money,
a debt collector may not contact you. It's a good idea to send this letter certified
mail, so you'll have proof that the debt collector received it. A collector could
renew collection activities if proof of the debt, such as a copy of a bill, is
sent to you.
File complaints. Report debt
collection problems and abuse to your state attorney general's office and the
You can also report
a debt collector to the Better Business Bureau.
If a debt collector has violated 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 may be recovered. A
group of people may sue a debt collector and recover money for damages up to $500,000,
or 1 percent of the collector's net worth, whichever is less.
National Consumer Law Center and Fair Debt Collection, a brochure for consumers
from the Federal Trade Commission.