Disclaimer – We are not lawyers and we are not giving legal advice. These are merely some options and information. Consult an attorney in your area to determine all your options.
Getting letters and phone calls from a debt collector is a stressful, unpleasant experience. If you are on the receiving end, you know how nerve racking it can be. You’ll hear all sorts of things from a debt collector from “you are going to jail” to “promise you’ll pay.” Another concern is whether or not that debt collector is a scammer or is legit. Instead of falling for their efforts or becoming a victim of a scam, let’s take a look at what bill collectors can and cannot do and what your rights are.
Speak to a debt expert for free and find out all your options.
What is Debt Collection Harassment?
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act protects consumers from predatory debt collectors. This federal law covers debt collectors pursuing personal debts such as medical, credit card, and mortgages. Many states have an additional fair debt collection practices act that covers other creditors. You’ll have to check your own state to see if it has a FDCPA and the statute of limitations on debts.
However, these actions are prohibited:
- Contacting you between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. without your permission
- Contact third parties (family, friends and employers) about your debt
- Speaking to your employer except under limited conditions
- Communicating with you if you are represented by an attorney
- Threatening violence or using profanities when speaking to you
- Pretending to be a government official or an attorney
- Sending letters that look like attorney or governmental letters but that are not
- Sending derogatory messages about you to a credit reporting agency
- Sending information on a postcard – this can include social media.
- Attempting to collect an expired debt
- Hiring an unlicensed credit collection agency
If you are on the receiving end of any of these actions, the debt collector is harassing you and this is illegal.
Debt Collection Rights
In addition to protecting you from harassment, you also have some legal rights. If you are contacted by a debt collector, do not agree to pay anything. Instead, do the following:
Request proof of debt. This is a written document that includes
- the amount
- original creditor if different from current creditor (if your debt was sold)
- a statement that you have 30 days to contest the debt before it is turned over to collections
- a statement that if you notify the collector within 30 days that the debt is disputed that you must receive a copy of obtain verification of the debt or a copy of a judgment
Next, request the debt collector’s name, contact information and business address. If the person refuses, you may have a scammer on your hands.
Debt Collector Scams
If you have a debt collector who is demanding immediate payment, using high pressure tactics, refusing to answer questions or provide you with contact information, wants your personal information, or wants you to pay by wire or gift cards, HANG UP IMMEDIATELY. This is a debt collection scam.
Debt Collectors and Legal Actions
Now that harassment, scams, and rights are out of the way, let’s look at some common questions.
Can debt collectors take you to court? Yes, however, it is a time consuming and expensive proposition. If you have
- They cannot threaten to take you to court if they do not intend to
- They must have a judgement to garnish your wages
How often do collection agencies take you to court, what is the minimum they will take you to court, and will they take you to court for $500 or less? The answer depends on
- how much you owe
- who you owe money to – a big corporation or the mom and pop business down the street
- where you owe the money – do they have to sue you in another state
- how many assets you own – is it worth their effort
- how old the debt is – always check your state’s statute of limitations
Can debt collectors see your bank account balance? Yes and no. The debt collector can see what is in your account if 1) they have a court order; 2) your bank and creditor are the same; or 3) you owe the federal government.
A debt collector may ask for your personal information or to debit your account. DO NOT GIVE THEM YOUR BANKING INFORMATION. With that information, they can monitor your account or take money out.
Can I be sent to collections without notice? Yes. It’s called “parking the debt” and is common in medical billing. If you are expecting a medical bill, stay on top of it. If your debt gets parked for whatever reason, you’ll have to fight to get the damage removed from your credit report.
What is a Demand Letter?
A demand letter gives you formal notice that your creditor is considering legal action. It may come from an attorney or from the creditor. There will be a demand for action, such as repaying your debt. A demand letter will include a threat of legal action.
If you get a demand letter, you need to read it very carefully and respond within the time limit set out in the letter. Credit collectors can and do make mistakes. Make sure that the debt is yours or that you are responsible for it. Make sure that the debt amount is accurate. If it is older than three years, check your state (or that state where the debt was incurred) statute of limitations. Each state is different, and limitations range from three to ten years.
What is a Summons Letter?
Serving papers means you will be receiving a summons. A debt collector cannot threaten to serve you if they don;t plan to follow through.
A summons letter comes from the court system. It is formal notification that you are being sued in court. It will contain the name of the court, the case number, the parties involved, and what you must do. The summons letter will either be delivered by a law officer, or a process server.
Take a summons letter very seriously. Do not ignore the letter. If you ignore the letter, you may automatically lose the case. The summons is a legal action.
If you receive a summons, you should strongly consider speaking with an attorney in your state to determine your options. The heading will read Plaintiff (the creditor) vs Defendant (you). If this is not you or your debt, respond in writing immediately. There is a section explaining how much the debt is and how and when it was incurred. Make certain these are correct. You will receive notice of where, when, and what date you are expected to appear in court. If you incurred the debt in another state, you may have to travel to that state.
For more information about the difference between a summons letter and a demand letter, please read this article.
Pacific Debt, Inc
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To be eligible for the Pacific Debt settlement program, you must have more than $10,000 in unsecured debt, and it typically takes about 2 to 4 years.
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For more information, contact one of our debt specialists today. The initial consultation is free and our debt specialists will give you all your options.
Our Debt Specialists can help you explore your alternatives to bankruptcy, including debt consolidation and debt settlement options.