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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently announced that seniors’ most frequent complaint to the bureau dealt with debt collection agencies. Bankrate’s Jeanine Skowronski wrote about it in a Senior Living blog post. Her advice was spot on, but I have some additional tips on the topic for seniors getting calls from a debt collection agency.

If you don’t recognize the telephone number, let it go to voice mail.

I do this myself. I’m on the “do not call” list, yet somehow people keep calling. Not debt collectors in my case, but if the call’s not worth a message, then it couldn’t have been all that important. You can put yourself on the do-not-call list, using the website donotcall.gov. You can register your cellphones, too. It won’t stop a debt collector’s calls; you have to write them to make that happen. But, it should reduce the telemarketing calls.

Never verify a debt over the phone

Collection agencies are often working against the calendar. The statute of limitations places time limits on when you no longer owe a debt. The statute varies by type of debt and by state law. Debts that are close to their statute of limitations often are sold to a different collection agency that makes a big push to get debtors to verify a debt. A debtor verifying a debt can restart the calendar on the statute of limitations.

Have a script of your own prepared

When you don’t know who’s calling, you need to find out. Write out a script that you’ll follow when you answer the phone and you don’t know the person on the other end. Here’s an example:

Hello, I don’t know you. You’ll have to tell me your name, your phone number, the firm you work for, the name and phone number of your manager, and the mailing address of the firm. Until I have that information, I can’t discuss anything else with you on this phone call. Put the script in a place where you can easily access it when you get a call from a collector or telemarketer.

The mailing address of the firm is important, because you may want to write to tell them they can no longer call you about debt collection matters, which is your right under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Once you’ve made the written request, the collector can only contact you for three specific reasons:

(1) To advise the consumer that the debt collector’s further efforts are being terminated.

(2) To notify the consumer that the debt collector or creditor may invoke specified remedies which are ordinarily invoked by such debt collector or creditor.

(3) Where applicable to notify the consumer that the debt collector or creditor intends to invoke a specified remedy.

Know your debts

Along with knowing your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, you should know your debts and credit account listings. If it’s been a while since you’ve reviewed your credit reports, you have the right to one free credit report a year from each of the consumer reporting agencies. The big three are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. I recommend setting up a schedule to get a different one every four months. It also helps to protect against identity theft. The site is: annualcreditreport.com.

Small medical debts don’t factor into your credit score.
For the most part, it’s the information in your credit report that goes into calculating your credit score. But with the latest version of the FICO credit score, medical bills that were initially less than $100 don’t factor into that credit score.

Have you ever been harassed by a collections agency?

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