If you've been a victim of job loss, medical emergency or other cause of income loss, you may be one of the millions of individuals facing a pile of debts that you cannot cover. Miss one or two payments and you can expect to get a call from a debt collector.
Calls from debt collectors trying to find you at your place of employment can be humiliating. You may already be screening your calls, your chest tightening as you realize it's them - again.
While not every debt collector is unsympathetic and berating they likely do have to steel themselves for many of the sad stories given to them as explanations for past due debts. They are also frequently rewarded for their efforts in collecting the debt with a commission based on the amount obtained. It is easy to see why it is not uncommon for individuals who are already in a desperate state to fear encounters with the more aggressive collectors who are determined to get their fees.
"What Are They Allowed to Do?"
Debt collectors are allowed to contact you by in person, by mail, by telegram, by fax and by phone; at home or at work - unless they know your employer would disapprove. They may also not contact you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. unless you have agreed to the contact at that time.
They must contact your attorney unless you don't have one. They may then contact other people to find out your telephone number, work place or address, but in most cases they are not allowed to inform them that you owe money or contact them more than once.
"What If I Don't Want to be Contacted?"
Whether or not you actually owe a debt you can write a letter to the collector telling them to stop contact. They may then contact you only once to inform you that they will make no further contact or to tell you what action may be taken against you.
Stopping contact will not clear the debt. If you do not believe you owe the debt make that clear in your letter.
"What Can I Do If I Am Harassed?"
The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has a Fair Debt Collection policy to protect consumers. Knowing your rights will put off even the most determined collector since they already know the law and are pressing you on the assumption that you don't.
Debt collectors are NOT allowed to harass, abuse or oppress you or other individuals on your behalf - that includes obscene language, threats of violence or repeated calling in an effort to annoy.
They are not allowed to misrepresent themselves as government agents, attorneys or representing a credit bureau if they are not. They cannot imply they are sending legal documents if they aren't or that you've committed a crime, if you haven't.
They cannot imply legal action, including seizing property or garnishing wages unless they are legally allowed and intend to do so.
You can find out more about your rights from the FTC. If you want to report an agent you can do so by contacting the FTC or your Attorney General. If they are breaking the law you have the right to sue.