How to Protect Yourself: Debt Collections
Source: The Florida Attorney General's Office
A "debt collector" is someone who regularly tries to collect debts owed to others. A debt collector may contact you if you are behind in your payments to a creditor on a personal, family or household debt, or if an error has been made in your account.
A debt collector may contact you in person, or by mail, email, telephone, telegram or fax. However, a collector may not communicate with you or your family with such frequency as can reasonably considered harassing. A debt collector may not contact you at work if the collector knows your employer does not approve, nor may a collector contact you at unreasonable times or places, such as before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you agree.
A debt collector is required to send you a written notice within five days after you are first contacted, telling you the amount of money you owe. The notice must also specify the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money and what action you should take if you believe you do not owe the money.
You may stop a collector from contacting you by writing a letter to the 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, or to notify you if the debt collector or the creditor intends to take some specific action.
If you do not believe you owe the debt, you may write to the collection agency within 30 days after you are first contacted, saying you don't owe the money. The agency may not contact you after that unless you are sent proof of the debt, such as a copy of the bill.
A debt collector may not harass or abuse anyone. For instance, a collector may not use threats of violence against the person, property or reputation; use obscene or profane language; advertise the debt; or repeatedly or continuously make telephone calls with the intent to harass or abuse the person at the called number. In addition, debt collectors are required to accurately disclose their identities to the person at the called number.
A debt collector may not use false statements, such as falsely implying that they are attorneys, that you have committed a crime, or that they operate or work for a credit bureau or misrepresenting the amount of your debt, the involvement of an attorney in collecting a debt, or indicating that papers sent to you are legal forms when they are not. Debt collectors may not tell you that you will be arrested if you do not pay; that they will seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages unless the collection agency or creditor intends to do so and has a legal right to do so; or that a lawsuit will be filed against you, when they have no legal right to file or do not intend to file such a suit.
Complaints about collection agencies may be filed either with Office of Financial Regulation at http://www.flofr.com/Consumer/Forms/CCAComplaint.pdf or with the Federal Trade Commission, Correspondence Branch, Washington, D.C. 20580. You also may file a lawsuit against the collection agency for violating state and/or federal law. If you prevail, you may be awarded your actual damages, as well as attorneys’ fees and costs.
To remind people of their rights – and debt collectors of their obligations – the FTC is featuring a new video available at www.ftc.gov/MoneyMatters, in the section called "Dealing with Debt". The video is also available in Spanish at www.ftc.gov/asuntosdedinero.
In addition, please feel free to read, download, copy, and distribute the FTC's consumer alert available at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt086.shtm and the FTC's Debt Collection FAQs: A Guide for Consumers available at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre18.shtm. These and other publications on debt collection and managing debt are also available in Spanish at www.ftc.gov/asuntosdedinero.