Collection agency call at work about debt?

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Dear Debt Adviser,
Can a creditor call you on your job and threaten to put you in jail?
— Idella

Dear Idella,
The typical collection agency is staffed with professionals who know the rules of their business, follow them and try to make the best out of a bad situation. The best in the industry see a collection call as an opportunity to remedy a problem, so they get their money, and you learn something positive in the process about handling debt. A former colleague of mine at a regional bank headed up a collection department and told me he saw collections as another customer service opportunity for the bank.

And then there are the bullies, losers and liars in the business, such as the one you have encountered.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act was written for situations just like yours. It includes all the rules debt collectors are required to follow when attempting to collect a debt from a consumer. One cardinal rule is that collectors may not threaten to take an action that is not legal or that they do not intend to take.

In your case, the collection agency may decide to legally sue you in court, but under almost all circumstances owing a debt is not punishable by jail time. Therefore, the collector was in violation of the law if you were threatened with jail.

The regulation that covers calling you at your place of employment is not quite as definitive. The law says you may not be called at your place of employment if the collector knows or has reason to know your employer does not allow you to receive those types of calls. But how would a collector know this? You have to say so.

Here’s my recommendation: If you receive another call at work, let the collector know your employer prohibits personal phone calls. Be sure to follow up the conversation in writing.

If you have not already done so, request that the collector send you written validation of the debt. That must include the amount you owe, the original creditor to whom the debt is owed and information on how to dispute the debt. Very often, old debts are sold and resold into a secondary market for pennies on the dollar. Many times, these debts come with little or no documentation. The result is that if you make a challenge and the debt cannot be validated, the collector has to stop trying to collect the debt and cannot resell it further.

If the debt is valid and you do indeed owe it, I suggest you develop a plan on how you will pay up. Unless you owe only a very small amount of money, my experience is that the collections process can go on for years until the debt is so old it expires under your state’s statute of limitations. More likely, however, you’ll end up in court before that.

So, try to get an agreement to pay your debt in monthly installments. But before you make a monthly payment plan offer, be sure you can afford to make the payments every month until the debt is paid. Get the repayment agreement in writing from the collector before you make any payments.

If the bad behavior continues on the part of the collector, you can: ask to speak to a manger and complain, report the collection agency to the Federal Trade Commission, file a complaint with your state attorney general’s office, or sue the collector for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Good luck!

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