When a debt collector contacts you to collect payment on an account, it can be scary and overwhelming, especially if the debt in question is unfamiliar to you. Collectors may contact you from an agency you’ve never heard of, and some may even threaten legal action against you.
It’s possible that you don’t recognize the debt because the original creditor assigned it to a collection agency or sold it to a debt buyer. Lawyers and repossession agents may also try to collect on debts in certain situations.
However, it’s also possible that you don’t recognize the debt because you don’t owe it.
What to do when you’re contacted by a debt collector
Whenever you receive any debt collection contact, the collector is required to mail a letter within five days that tells you the amount of the debt and the original creditor. This letter should also explain your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). If you don’t receive this letter, it could be a sign that the collector who contacted you isn’t legitimate.
If you receive this letter and still don’t recognize the debt, send a validation and itemization letter to request proof of the debt and proof that the collector has permission to contact you about it. An itemization will show you how the balance was calculated. It will include the original balance amount as well as any interest that was added. If you have documented proof that you don’t owe the debt, send this to the collector as well. Always keep a copy of any correspondence with the collector.
Debt collection scams do exist
One woman received debt collection calls saying she would be sued over a bill she hadn’t paid on a payday loan. She knew this was inaccurate, but debt collectors can be very convincing. It’s a red flag if you can’t find information about the collection agency or company, or if they threaten you with arrest.
The steps outlined above will help you ensure that the amount the collector claims you owe is accurate and legitimate. If the company can’t prove that you owe the debt, contact a consumer rights attorney to discuss your options.
Know your rights
Even if you determine that the collection is legitimate, debt collectors must follow all regulations under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. They can’t threaten or harass you, and if you ask them to stop contacting you, they’re required to do so. Learn more about your rights under the FDCPA, and seek legal help if you think your rights have been violated.