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What To Do When a Debt Collector Contacts You

When a debt collector contacts you, the most important thing is to act quickly.  Whatever you do – whether you contact an attorney or write the debt collector a letter yourself – act quickly.

A consumer protection attorney’s effectiveness is directly proportional to how quickly you contact him.  If you contact an attorney early, you may have options.  Wait a few weeks, or until a deadline has passed, and those options may disappear.  Even if you already have an attorney, you need to make sure your attorney knows the timelines involved with debt collection, the FDCPA, and intends to take some action on your behalf, or refers you to another attorney whom regularly practices in this area.

Of course, some consumers may not want to hire an attorney.  The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has some helpful tips here, similar to the ones included in this article.  The CFPB also has some sample letters you can use.  But the same warning above applies: act quickly.  Gauge your ignorance at the outset.  Don’t spend weeks or months trying to figure out the process of responding to a debt collector only to come to the conclusion you don’t know what you’re doing after you’ve wasted time.  As with an attorney, the options you may have had when this process started may have disappeared.

Why is timing important?

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) permits you to dispute a debt within 30 days of receiving a notice from the debt collector that informs you of that right.  15 U.S.C. 1692g.  That’s it: 30 days.  A savvy debt collector knows the FDCPA well. It won’t respond unless it must.  It may not verify a debt if you send a verification letter (also called a validation letter) outside of the 30-day window.  The debt collector also knows it can continue to attempt to collect the debt – call you, mail you, or try to learn your whereabouts from third parties – unless you request verification within that 30-day window.

What should you do when a debt collector contacts you?

Document, document, document.  Keep track of everything.  If you get a phone call from a debt collector, note the date, the time, the number from which the call came, who called, and the name of the debt collection company.  If the caller left a voicemail, save it.  Then, contact an attorney.

Pay to track everything you mail, and request a signature at delivery.  Sending a letter via certified mail, return receipt requested (the green card), is currently $6.57.  Don’t skip this step.  Again, document, document, document.  Copy the letter you’re mailing.  Copy the envelope.  Copy the green card with the tracking number.  Copy your receipt.  Put all of the copies in a binder, or a folder, or an envelope and save them.  The old saying is, “if it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen.” 

Request verification of the debt.

If you’re a consumer, requesting verification will stop collection efforts until the debt collector verifies the debt (which may be never).  If you’re a consumer’s attorney, not only will this stop collection efforts against the consumer until the debt collector verifies the debt (which again, may be never) AND require the debt collector to communicate with you instead of the consumer.

Revoke consent to contact you on a cell phone.

If the debt collector is contacting you on a cell phone, expressly revoke consent for the debt collector and the creditor to contact you on your cell phone.

Contact an attorney when:

  • A debt collector calls you;
  • A debt collector mails you;
  • A debt collector (or creditor) files a lawsuit against you;
  • You get a 15-day notice informing you someone intends to garnish your wages;
  • A debt collector starts the process to collect a judgment:
    • attempts to execute on (take) your personal property;
    • attempts to place a lien your house;
    • attempts to garnish your wages; or
    • attempts to garnish your bank account.

You have rights – use them!  If you have an issue with a debt collector, contact us to see if we can help.

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