Protect Yourself from Bill Collectors by Knowing the Law

Bill collectors. They call. They write. Sometimes they even knock on your door.

If you have ever had a conversation with a bill collector, you know the experience can be frightening and insulting. Many people do not know that these intimidation tactics are illegal.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is a consumer law that offers protection from unfair or deceptive practices and harassment by bill collection agencies. Although the law applies only to collection agencies (and not the original creditor who loaned you money), it is important to know how to protect yourself under the law.

First, debt collectors must identify themselves and their agency. They must state the original creditor's name and the amount owed. You have 30 days to dispute the amount owed.

You have the right to demand, in writing, that collectors stop contacting you for payment, through a cease-contact letter. A collector can only call to inform you that he is no longer trying to collect the debt or that the creditor plans to sue.

It is illegal for debt collectors to:
• Call you before 8am or after 9pm.
• Contact you at a friend's or neighbor's house.
• Call you at your workplace, if the collector knows your employer doesn't permit personal phone calls.
• Threaten you with seizure of your property or imprisonment, or personally in any way, including use of profane language.
• Contact a third party, except to find you.
• Talk to friends, family or employers about your debt. The collector may call your lawyer, spouse or co-debtor, however, to discuss the debt.
• Send mail that resembles legal papers.
• Demand that you send payment by wire, overnight mail or credit card.

If you think a debt collector has broken the law, keep records of the incident. To file an official complaint, turn to the Federal Trade Commission, Sixth and Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20580. You can also contact your local Consumer Protection Agency.

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