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Did you know that in the not-so-ancient past debt collectors could use just about any tactics they could think of to collect money from consumers. They could make threatening phone calls, send letters or even call your employer or at least threaten to call your employer or garnish your wages. A debt collector could yell at you, call you profane names or do just about anything else that he or she could think of to get you to pay a bill.
This all changed with the passage of the Fair Business Collection Agencies Practices act. Today, collection agencies must adhere to some very strict rules to be in compliance with this Act.
In the past, it was possible for debt collectors to harass people into paying bills – even ones that were not their own–for fear that their credit history would be affected. However, now thanks to the Fair Business Collection Agencies Practices act, collection agencies are required to provide you with enough information for you to make sure the debt is really yours before any further discussions. So at first contact, the collector must provide you with detailed information about the debt that he or she is trying to collect. It must then send written correspondence to your home address within five days of that first contact. This written correspondence must alert you to the fact that you have the right to dispute the debt. The debt collector has 30 days to validate the debt, that is prove that the debt is yours. Until it does so, it is forbidden from talking to you about collecting the debt.
The Fair Business Collection Agencies Practices Act also makes it illegal for a collection agency to harass you. It cannot harass you over the telephone or try to humiliate you into paying the bill. It cannot phone your office if you are not permitted to receive calls there. When they call you at home, they can call only between the hours of 8 AM and 9 PM in your time zone. They cannot harass you and they cannot talk to others regarding your debt, except in certain states where they are permitted to talk with your partner. If you hire a lawyer, the debt collector is not allowed to phone you any longer for any reason. He or she must discuss the issue with your attorney.
Cease and desist
You can actually stop debt collectors from contacting you by sending it what is called a “cease and desist” letter. You will need to send a letter by registered mail and be sure to request a return receipt so that you can prove the collection agency received it. In this letter, all you have to do is say that you do not wish to receive any more communications from it– by mail or by phone. Of course, the debt collectors can still try to collect from you but will no longer be able to contact you. The two exceptions to this rule are first, the agency can contact you to tell you that it will not be contacting you again, and second, to advise you that they will be pursuing legal remedies such as filing suit against you.
IMPORTANT: Sending a cease and desist letter in 2012 and beyond is liable to put you in the front of the line for a lawsuit by a creditor. This is a dated tactic that produced good results in the past but is now a red flag to creditors.
What to do if the harassment continues
If you send the collection agency a cease-and-desist letter and it continues to harass you or contacts your employer, there is something you can do. You can hire an attorney to file suit against the collection agency to make its collectors stop contacting you. You get also sue to recover any actual damages suffered or statutory damages up to $1000. Plus, you can get your attorney’s fees and court costs paid.