When the Debt Collector Calls

First Contact

It is around 6 PM and you are just sitting down to dinner and the phone rings. You look at your caller ID and it says "out of area." You answer and say hello and there is no one there. You hang up. The debt collectors system now knows that you are home at 6 PM on weeknights. You may get another call in a few minutes or at the same time tomorrow. This time there will be a live person who should, by law, start the conversation with his name and company name and the purpose for his or her call is to collect a debt. This person will now tell you that you owe, for example, 497.00 to Horizon Telecom. From that point on, the conversation can proceed down many different avenues from professional to downright ugly. This article is about the latter which is unfortunately very common.

I am a moderator on a large internet forum that has the category of dealing with collection agencies as one of its hottest topics. The stories of threats, third party contact and even personal appearances at front doors by third party collectors are shocking, conservatively speaking. The most common is the threat that if the alleged debtor does not have a certain amount of money in the collectors hand by a certain date and time the sheriff will come to their job and have them arrested. This and all other threats that can't be carried out are illegal under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Do the collectors know this? Of course they do. They also know that only one person in one thousand will first, be aware, and second, acually file a lawsuit. When they are sued they usually make a quick out of court settlement and mark it off as the cost of doing business. Going to court is expensive and they can be assesed punitive damages of 1000.00 per violation plus legal fees and court costs.

Most collection agencies are cube hives that have several to dozens of agents sitting at computers with headphones trying desperately to earn commissions on debts that were purchased, in lots, for pennies on the dollar. Many of these are several years old and past the statute of limitations. These statutes vary by state but are usually four to five years.

How to Proceed

Knowing your rights from the onset is paramount in gaining control of the situation. If the person refuses to say the name of the company he works for that is an FDCPA violation. The collector is also required to send a dunning letter within 5 days of initial contact. Make sure you say that you require that  statement before you admit to owing anything. Admitting to a debt by trying to make arrangments can restart the statute that may have or is about to expire. Tell the collector that he or she is not permitted to contact you  about this by phone or any other means other than the United State Postal Service. If they do that is another violation of the FDCPA. If they continue to give you a hard time politely say "thank you, I will be looking for you statement in the mail" and hang up. If they call back make a note of the date and time which will be supported by your carriers records.

The Statement Arrives

You go to the mailbox a few days later and you retrieve what should be, by law also, a very nondescript envelope with just a PO box as an address. The bill inside will usually have the amount and the name of the original creditor along with a line that will state that if you do not dispute the validity of the debt within thirty days it will be assumed valid. This is also required by law. Now you have a choice. You can pay it or send a request for validation. If you send a validation letter the collector is required under the FDCPA to provide a copy of the original debt and the name of the original creditor. Many will not be able to do this because they will not have it. You are going to ask for a lot more in your letter.

A debt validation letter should demand the the following information:

  • Proof that the debt is yours
  • Proof that the collector owns or is entitled to collect the debt
  • How the collector arrived at the amount they say you owe
  • Proof that the collector is licensed to collect debts in the state in which you reside
  • Proof that the debt is not past your states statute of limitations.
  • If it is an internet payday loan require proof that the lender is licensed in your state as they are usually not.

There is no time frame required for the debt collector to respond to your letter contrary to what I have read elsewhere. It is best to send  all correspondence certified mail with a return receipt. Documentation is important. After this letter is sent it has been my experience that about 50 percent of third party collectors will drop the collection and move to an easier target. Also include in your letter a cease communication paragraph telling them not to contact you by any other means but the USPS and forbid them from contacting a third party regarding the debt. They are bound to this by law also.

The FDCPA

Years ago debt collectors could parallel psycopathic bounty hunters in their actions. They would call over and over a any hour of the night and morning and tell your kids you were a deadbeat! Anything was OK if it would get them their commission. Then the Fair Debt Collection Pratices Act was legislated and now there are sections 801 through 819 that are in place to protect you, the consumer, against these atrocities, although, as I stated early on, that they still take place every day. Here are some, but not all, of the actions by collectors that are covered:

  • A collector can only call between the hours of 8 AM and 9 PM
  • A collector cannot threaten a person with arrest, garnishment or any other legal action that the collector does not intend to or is not lagally permitted to do.
  • A collector may not represent himself as an attorney unless he is actually an attorney even if he is using an attorneys license for the purpose of collecting.
  • A collector can contact a third party one time only for the purpose of locating the alleged debtor but may not disclose the reason for their search.
  • A collector may not call a person at work if it is known that they are not pemitted to receive such calls.
  • A collector must cease all collection during the validation period mentioned in the previous section.

Here is a link to the FDCPA. If it fails to open please copy and paste to your browser.http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre27.pdf

These laws also apply to law firms that are collecting as third parties also but be warned. You are risking an expensive lawsuit if you try legal dancing with a law firm. They know all the tricks and you will wind up paying court costs and their fees on top of the debt. If you are getting collection attempts from a law firm try to make arrangements with them or if you believe you do not owe the money, get yourself a lawyer if only to write a letter. Better to pay your own attorney than someone elses. Like the old saying goes, a person who represents themselves in court has a fool for a lawyer.

If you feel that your rights have been violated under the FDCPA there are attorneys that will take your case on contingency and you will wind up collecting rather than paying. A good place to start is the National Association of Consumer Advocates

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Comments 20 comments

sophiewf profile image

sophiewf 7 years ago from US

Great Hub! Very informative with lots of sound advice. Works for me!


Sassnlucy 7 years ago

Great article as always :) I'm going to pass this on to several people I know.


Michelle  7 years ago

I think in Texas they have 30 days to Validate


frogpatch profile image

frogpatch 7 years ago from Jersey Shore Author

Many states do have their own laws in place. Some even apply to the original creditor not just a third party.


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

frogpatch, how 'bout a non-energy intensive solution to having the phone number of a deadbeat?  Several months ago I changed my phone number to one easier to remember (kept transposing two numbers in the old one).  Shortly thereafter, I began getting calls that claimed to be about "my" account with a company I've never had an account with.  An occasional nuisance call I could live with, but my number must've been on an auto-dialer because I was getting, on average, TEN calls a day.  One day, 13 calls from the same number!  Another day, 2 calls 10 minutes apart!  Did no good to block whatever number was on the caller ID, the calls would then originate from a different number.  I should add I never answer the phone unless it's someone I know, so all these calls were going to voice mail. 

Isn't there a limit on how many times collection agencies can call a number in a month?  Thanks to our wonderful "privacy" laws, none of the VM messages mentioned the name of the person they were trying to reach.  Shouldn't they have to verify who the number belongs to??  

I did NOT call the call-back number in the VM, btw.  Learned years ago the futility of notifying these companies that I'm not the deadbeat du jour.  Did that once and the response was "Yeah, sure...send $xxx.xx to this address", etc. 

Luckily the calls to my present number finally stopped, right around the time I was about to bill the company for the all of the time I had to stop what I was doing to check the Caller ID and to delete their VMs!


KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas

I have a question. I've wondered if, by replying to a collections letter and asking for proof of the debt that that escalates things that might have died out on their own. It seems to me if they have 30 days to cough it up, that they would cough it up and you've opened the door to having to either pay it or refuse to pay it. Either way, they have you. If you continue to ignore, some will write it off and go on, right?


frogpatch profile image

frogpatch 7 years ago from Jersey Shore Author

Thanks for your interest. To Jamagenee.  Multiple calls in a given day is a violation of the FDCPA and considered harrassment. You can file a suit against the collector. This is an egregious violation and you could be awarded a substantial settlement.

KCC Big Country. I am a little confused by your question. Sending a debt validation letter is simply asking for proof of the debt being valid and would only be requested if you were involved in ongoing collections. You have 30 days from the initial contact to request this. The collector cannot attempt to collect until validation has been sent to you. Many times the collectors will send information that is lacking substance. At that time another letter should be sent telling them that they have failed in their attempt at validation. Info about anything regarding debt collection can be found at www.debtconsolidationcare.com I hope this is OK with the site rules. If not,moderators, please delete the link and not the article. Thank you.


KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas

The question was......by requesting the validation letter, and assuming they are able to provide it, does it tend to escalate their collections efforts since you would then be forced to either pay, make arrangements to pay, or refuse to pay. Would it not be best to ignore them altogether and leave them wondering so that they eventually give up?


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

Thought so. Thanks!


frogpatch profile image

frogpatch 7 years ago from Jersey Shore Author

KCC Big Country. A collector must cease all collection attempts until the debt is validated. He must cease all forms of communication except by mail to collect if a cease communtcation letter is received even after the validation. The only escalation they can take after that is to take the matter to court. Most collectors want the soft target and do not want to go to the expense of a filing fee and attorneys cost if they can just shake down someone else. There are exceptions. Large debts will draw a law suit easier than small ones of say a few hundred dollars. Collecting attorneys will almost always sue. If you tell a third party collector, non attorney, that you are represented by an attorney and provide that attorneys name and phone number they are only to contact the attorney regarding the debt by law. 99 percent of them will shake you off like a spider and run.


sophieqd profile image

sophieqd 7 years ago

When the Debt Collector Calls

Thank you very much for this hub! It's really very useful.. I appreciate it very much and will follow your advice!


girly_girl09 profile image

girly_girl09 7 years ago from United States

I think this is really useful advice!, but remember that your credit score is augmented everytime that your debt goes to a collection. I once had a medical bill that was sent to a collections agency by mistake by the hospital's bookkeeping department. We resolved everything, but I looked on my credit report and saw that a certain credit agency had been involved with my credit history. I called the credit agency and demanded that they fixed this and they did. I also asked for a follow up letter stating what they were doing to fix it but they would not do so. "We don't mail out stuff like that." I checked two months later and my credit report had been fixed, so luckily it turned out ok. I was nervous for a while, especially as I was shopping for a new car and needed an auto loan.

Just remember: unpaid debts lead to a poor credit scores and you can't always get out of debt collector obligations.


Class Advocate 7 years ago

There is a growing number of class action lawsuits based on improper debt collection practices:

http://www.classadvocate.com/?direct=y&categor...


frogpatch profile image

frogpatch 7 years ago from Jersey Shore Author

Yes Class Advocate you are correct! Unfortunately class action suits only benefit the lawyers! Only pennies go to the plaintiffs! Suits in local district courts are the way to go! That is if the collector has presence in your state! If the collector does not, then the chances of collecting an award are slim! However if the collector is not licensed in your state he can not collect from you either! So if the collector is not licensed in your state he has no power to collect the debt! If he or she is licensed they are bound by the laws of your state and the FDCPA!


habee profile image

habee 7 years ago from Georgia

GREAT hub! I see that you're a fisherman, but I couldn't find any fishing articles. I do a good bit of Florida fishing, too.


frogpatch profile image

frogpatch 6 years ago from Jersey Shore Author

I am a fisherman but I am not a very good Florida Fisherman.

I am a much better New Jersey Surf Fisherman! I will write aan article about that once I move back there and see if I can still fish with the best of them! Thanks


Rose Ella Morton profile image

Rose Ella Morton 5 years ago from Beverly Hills, Michigan

This is very good information but what if you have aready paid the debt to a former debt collecting agency. and this new Agency called the,

Collection Company of America

700 Longwater Drive

Norwell, Ma 02061

Phone(781)681-4300 Fax(508)652-4833

could care less about all your records of this debt being paid. No they are not calling me, but I wish they would so I could give them a piece of my mind. The problem is, I would like this already paid debt to be remove from my Credit Report. It is on all three. I have done countless dispute which I have sent in statments clearing me from the account. But in the in their word is worth more then any paid receipt I send in. Most of the time they hide like cowards after they find out it is me calling again. But I will be D### if I pay this again. The amount is only 261.00 but the thought of doing something so sneaky and under the table as this, make me mad. I just know there are other who has been caught in their debt collecting SCAM.


Rose Ella Morton profile image

Rose Ella Morton 5 years ago from Beverly Hills, Michigan

Hello Frogpatch, you have a good hub


frogpatch profile image

frogpatch 5 years ago from Jersey Shore Author

Here is a link with some info about them. http://consumerjustice.com/consumer/agencydetail.a...

That site has a wealth of information on dealing with your situation. You can also go to www.debtconsolidationcare.com and post that question. I am a moderator there and there are many people to help you. Meanwhile send them a debt validation letter.


Rose Ella Morton profile image

Rose Ella Morton 5 years ago from Beverly Hills, Michigan

That was the first thing I sent. It was hard for me to believe that they could care less about validation. I will check out your site.

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