The best way to protect yourself when a debt collector calls you is to know your rights under both federal (U.S.) law and under Florida law. Many of these rights are described in the articles on False and Misleading Statements by Debt Collectors, Harassment and Unfair Debt Collection Tactics, Debt Collectors Calling at All Hours, Debt Collectors Calling Family and Friends, and other articles on this blog.
This article describes the best way for you to assert those rights, regardless of whether or not you owe the alleged debt.
First, write down the name of the person who contacted you, and the name of their company. If they contacted you by letter or in writing using another method, save that letter.
Second, write the debt collector a letter requesting them to “validate” or verify the debt. You only have 30 days to request this. Click here for a list of the information to which you are entitled, if you request it.
Third, don’t be afraid to tell the debt collector to leave you alone. If you don’t owe the debt, put it in writing to the debt collector who contacted you.
Fourth, don’t agree to make even a small payment. Some slick debt collectors try to convince you to make a small payment, often claiming that it is needed to show your “good faith”. Debt collectors often do this on old debt which is past the Statute of Limitations, and for which they cannot legally sue you. However, if you make even a small payment, this can reset the clock, meaning they can then sue you for the entire debt, even if they couldn’t do so before.
Fifth, keep voice mail messages they have left for you, especially if they are abusive or show profanity. In Florida, you cannot generally record phone calls to or from debt collectors unless you first advise the debt collector that you will be recording their phone call. However, you can keep any recordings they leave on your answering machine or on your voice mail. You’d be amazed at how often debt collectors will leave threatening messages, including saying they work for law enforcement, or that you will be arrested, or that they will send someone to “send a message” to you. Even though these are illegal, abusive debt collectors will often still leave such messages.
Sixth, if you get sued by a debt collector, you must respond promptly, or you may lose automatically. You can either represent yourself and defend the lawsuit, or hire a consumer attorney experienced in defending debt collection cases who will know the rules of civil procedure and the rules of evidence.
Seventh, protect your credit score and credit report. You are entitled to a free credit report once per year from the major credit reporting agencies, so don’t hesitate to get it. Many consumers are surprised at all the debt that are listed, even when those debts are not theirs. Don’t wait until you apply for a car loan or home loan to discover these. And, if you find such debts that are not yours, dispute those debts in writing to make sure they are cleared up before you go shopping for a car or home.
Eighth, if you believe you are a victim of abusive debt collection practices, don’t hesitate to file a complaint with the federal agency, the Federal Trade Commission. Click here for information on How to File a Complaint Against a Debt Collector.
Of course, if you have any questions about your rights, or if you need help dealing with an abusive or stubborn debt collector, please do not hesitate to call me on our toll-free number (1-888-834-5297) for a free initial consultation.