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Debt collection: rules of the road


POSTED: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - 5:44pm

UPDATED: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - 7:48pm

The economy may be recovering slowly, but a lot of folks are still deep in debt. And they are probably getting calls from debt collectors. But what are the rules and limitations when someone is pressuring you over a debt?

You know the drill. The phone rings at home and the caller ID says “Out of Area” or “Private Number.” And you know who it is.

It’s someone dunning you about a bill you are behind on. And they want you to agree to a settlement or a payment plan over the phone. That much is legal, but what can’t they do?

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act sets the rules, and there is a list. Some you might have known. You can demand that you not be called at work, or not be called at all. That won’t stop collection though, just the calls.

They can’t lie about who they are, what you owe, or threaten jail time. So, you do have rights even though you legitimately owe the money. Every situation is different, but short of bankruptcy, you will have to pay all or part of the debt.

The collector just has to stay inside the foul lines.

Debt Collectors can NOT:
1. Contact you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you’ve asked them to;
2. Contact you at work once you’ve told them not to;
3. Use threats of violence or harm;
4. Publish a list of names of people who refuse to pay their debts (though this information can be provided to credit bureaus);
5. Use obscene or profane language;
6. Repeatedly use the phone to annoy someone.
7. Falsely claim that they are attorneys or government representatives;
8. Falsely claim that you have committed a crime;
9. Falsely represent that they operate or work for a credit reporting company;
10. Misrepresent the amount you owe;
11. Indicate that papers they send you are legal forms if they aren’t, or indicate that papers they send to you aren’t legal forms if they are.
12. Claim you can be arrested if you don’t pay your debt;
13. Threaten to seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages unless they are permitted by law to take the action and intend to do so; or
14. Threaten legal action in cases where doing so would be illegal or if they don’t intend to take the action.
15. Provide false credit information about you to anyone, including a credit reporting company;
16. Send you anything that looks like an official document from a court or government agency if it isn’t;
17. Use a false company name.
18. Try to collect any interest, fee, or other charge on top of the amount you owe unless the contract that created your debt – or your state law – allows the charge;
19. Deposit a post-dated check early;
20. Take or threaten to take your property unless it can be done legally;
21. Contact you by postcard.
22. Garnish any of the following, even after proving their case against you in a lawsuit:

Social Security Benefits
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits
Veterans’ Benefits
Civil Service and Federal Retirement and Disability Benefits
Service Members’ Pay
Military Annuities and Survivors’ Benefits
Student Assistance
Railroad Retirement Benefits
Merchant Seamen Wages
Longshoremen’s and Harbor Workers’ Death and Disability Benefits
Foreign Service Retirement and Disability Benefits
Compensation for Injury, Death, or Detention of Employees of U.S. Contractors Outside the U.S.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Federal Disaster Assistance
23. Contact you after they have received a letter from you saying you do not wish to be contacted any further about the debt. The collector can still contact you to confirm there will be no further contact or to advise you of additional actions being taken against you, such as lawsuit.

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