Debt Collection – Know Your Rights
Is someone attempting to collect a debt against you? You are not alone! Every year millions of Americans have debt in collections reported on their credit report.
Debt collectors may contact you in person, by mail, telephone, or fax in the process of collecting debt. However, the law prohibits debt collectors from acting in unlawful, unfair, deceptive, or abusive ways to a consumer. As a California consumer, here are some rights that you have:
- Right to Stop Contact: You have the right to tell a debt collector to stop communicating with you. To stop communication, send a letter to the debt collector requesting they cease all communications and keep a copy of the letter. Generally, debt collectors must stop contacting you after they receive a written request to stop contact, but they can contact you to let you know they won’t contact you again, or to notify you that they or the creditor could take other action such as filing a lawsuit.
- Right to Be Free From Harassment: Debt collectors are not allowed to harass you. Examples of harassment include repetitious phone calls intended to annoy or abuse, obscene language, and threats of violence or criminal prosecution. They may contact your employer and certain family members, but only in very specific situations.
- Right to Be Free From False or Misleading Representations: Debt collectors are also prohibited from misleading or deceiving you. For example, debt collectors may not tell you that you will go to jail for not paying your debt or claim to be an attorney or from a government agency if they are not. They are also prohibited from falsely representing the amount or character of the debt.
- Right to Request Verification of the Debt: Debt collectors may not attempt to collect debt from you that is inaccurate or not yours. Consequently, you may send a written verification request to the debt collector to confirm that the debt is indeed yours and accurate. You may want to request the name and address of the current creditor as well as the original creditor in case they differ, and the amount of the debt. You can send the request via certified mail, return receipt, keeping a copy for your records. If the debt collector receives your request within 30 days after you receive their written notice about the debt, they must stop trying to collect the debt until they provide written verification of the debt to you.
- Right to Be Free From Debt Collection Activities for an Identity Theft-Related Debt: If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, you can complete an FTC Identity Theft Report and/or file a police report. Once you notify the debt collector and provide either a completed FTC Identity Theft Report or your filed police report, along with certain additional information, the debt collector must cease all collection activities until completion of a review.
- Right to Dispute an Alleged Debt: Debt collectors may not report false information to a credit reporting agency. You can check the accuracy of the information on your credit report by obtaining a credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You are also entitled to a free credit report from Annual Credit Reportvia online request, mail in request, or by calling 1-877-322-8228. If you believe information on your credit report is inaccurate or incomplete, you may submit a written dispute to the creditor, debt collector, and/or the credit reporting agency.
- Right to File a Complaint With Government Agencies: If a debt collector violates any of your rights, you may file a complaint with the DFPI, the California Attorney General’s Office (CA AG), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and/or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Harassment and deception are illegal
Harassment and deception are illegal The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act says people collecting debts can’t harass, oppress, abuse, or deceive you or anyone else they contact.
For example, debt collectors can’t:
- Call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., in general
- Call you over and over
- Make repeated phone calls that are intended to annoy, abuse, or harass you or any person answering the phone
- Post messages on your social media accounts about your debt (private messages are allowed if the sender tells you they are a debt collector)
- Use obscene or profane language
- Make threats of violence or harm
- Lie about the amount you owe
- Deceive you to collect money, for example by falsely claiming to be law enforcement officers or saying you’ll be arrested if you don’t pay your debt
- Publish lists of people who refuse to pay their debts (this does not include reporting information to a credit reporting company)
- Talk to you without telling you they are a debt collector, or use a fake company name
Excerpted from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau publication “Know your rights when a debt collector calls”.
Links To Additional Resources:
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau(CFPB) – Debt Collections information and guidance, as well as information on consumer protections.
- Federal Trade Commission(FTC) – Information about your rights, and a helpful debt collection FAQ.
- Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation(FDIC) – Tips and assistance for dealing with debt collectors.
Our AG’s office also has an informative webpage at: Debt Collectors | State of California – Department of Justice – Office of the Attorney General.