If you use credit cards, owe money on a personal loan,
or are paying on a home mortgage, you are a "debtor."
If you fall behind in repaying your creditors, or an error is
made on your accounts, you may be contacted by a
"debt collector." You should know that in either situation,
the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires debt
collectors to treat you fairly by prohibiting certain
methods of debt collection. Of course, the law does not
forgive any legitimate debt you owe. Below are answers
to commonly asked questions about your rights under
the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
What debts are covered? Personal, family, and household debts are covered
under the Act. This includes money owed for the purchase of an automobile, for
medical care, or for charge accounts.
Who is a debt collector or collection agency? A debt collector is any
person or agency, other than the creditor, who regularly collects debts owed to
others. Under a 1986 amendment to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, this
also includes attorneys who collect debts on a regular basis.
How may a debt collector contact you?
A collector or agency may contact you in person, by
mail, telephone, telegram, or FAX. However, a debt
collector may not contact you at unreasonable times or
places, such as before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you
agree. A debt collector may not contact you at work if
the collector is aware that your employer disapproves.
Can you stop a debt collector from contacting you? You can stop a
collector from contacting you by writing a letter to the collection agency telling
them to stop. Once the agency receives your letter, they may not contact you
again except to say there will be no further contact. The agency may notify you
if the debt collector or the creditor intends to take some specific action.
May a debt collector contact anyone else about your debt? If you
have an attorney, the debt collector may not contact anyone other than
your attorney. If you do not have an attorney, a collector may contact
other people, but only to find out where you live and work. Collectors usually
are prohibited from contacting such permissible third parties more than once.
In most cases, the collector may not tell anyone other than you and your attorney
that you owe money.
What must the debt collector tell you about the debt? Within five days
after you are first contacted, the collector must send you a written notice telling
you the amount of money you owe; the name of the creditor to whom you owe
the money; and what action to take if you believe you do not owe the money.
May a debt collector continue to contact you if you believe you
do not owe money? A collector may not contact you if, within 30 days after
you are first contacted, you send the collection agency a letter stating you do
not owe money. However, a collector can renew collection activities if you
are sent proof of the debt, such as a copy of a bill for the amount owed.