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4 Things Debt Collectors Can’t Do

August 31, 2015 August 31, 2015

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It's a call you never want to receive: A debt collector pursuing payments from you.

But why are you being contacted? A debt collector may try to reach you if you haven't been able to keep up with your bills or if a creditor incorrectly believes that you're behind on payments.

When it comes to managing contact with a debt collector, arming yourself with knowledge of the law can help you identify illegal practices.

What is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act?

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is a law that was originally passed in 1977 to promote fair debt collection practices and prevent debt collectors from using abusive, unfair or deceptive practices to collect personal, family and household debts.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) reported that debt collection was the most complained-about issue in August 2015, representing 31 percent of the complaints submitted to the CFPB by U.S. consumers.

Here are some of the practices that debt collectors aren't allowed to do, by law.

Debt collectors can't contact you at inconvenient times or places.

Generally, this means they can't call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. unless you agree. They also can't contact you at work if you tell them that you're not allowed to take calls there.

If a lawyer is representing you about the debt, inform the debt collector -- the debt collector will then need to contact the lawyer, not you.

Debt collectors can't harass or abuse you or any third parties they contact.

This harassment or abuse may include:

  • Calling repeatedly to annoy, abuse or harass you.
  • Using obscene or profane language.
  • Threatening you with violence or publishing your name on a list of people who refuse to pay their debt (they can report information to a credit bureau, however.)

They can't lie or mislead you when they contact you or any third parties.

These lies and misleading statements may include:

  • Calling you without telling you who they are or why they're calling (i.e. attempting to collect debt).
  • Misrepresenting how much you owe.
  • Falsely claiming they're attorneys, government representatives, the police or a credit reporting company.

In many states, debt collectors must be licensed. If you doubt whether the caller is a legitimate debt collector, you can ask them for their name, company name, address, phone number and license number. You can also contact the original creditor to verify who has been authorized to collect this debt to confirm any information the collector provided.

Debt collectors can't use unfair practices when collecting debt.

These unlawful practices may


  • Trying to collect any interest, fees or additional charges on top of the amount owed that is not authorized by the agreement creating the debt.
  • Depositing a post-dated check early.
  • Use any language or symbol on mail they send to you (other than their address) to indicate it's from a debt collector.

What are options if I think a debt collector is doing something that's not allowed by law?

You can submit complaints about debt collectors to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or to your state Attorney General. Complaints sent to these agencies are typically forwarded to the debt collector. For complaints it forwards, the CFPB requires companies to initially respond to you and the CFPB within 15 days. Most complaints filed through the CFPB are closed within 60 days.

You may also contact a lawyer that specializes in debt collections about other remedies you may be entitled to.

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About the Author: Korrena Bailie is Credit Karma 's Managing Editor. She's been writing and editing personal finance content since 2012. When she's not scanning personal finance-related Google Alerts, she's climbing, traveling to countries where it rains all the time (ahem, Ireland) or talking to her cats as if they're people.

Category: Credit

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