Collection calls can get annoying, exhausting, or downright abusive. Especially if you just can’t pay right now or are getting them by mistake.
But there are things you can do to stop many of the calls if you’re getting harassed by collectors. Just keep in mind that stopping the harassment won’t stop the collection process itself. It also won’t make the debt go away if you do owe it.
Here’s what you can do to stop collection calls:
What if you’re getting vague messages that you suspect might be from a collections agency? (For example, if you’re getting voice mails asking you to call a toll-free number, with no additional information.) Call the number back and talk to a real person.
(If you are not the person they’re calling for, just stay on the line without pressing anything. Eventually this will connect you to a person in most cases.)
Once you know you’re speaking with a debt collector, ask for the name and address of the collection agency that’s calling. You may be told that they’re not allowed to give out that information, but that isn’t true. (After all, I’m sure they’d provide it if you wanted to send them money.).
If that happens, ask to speak to someone else until you get someone who will tell you. Or call back and just start the conversation with a chirpy “Hi, what’s your mailing address?”.
Send a certified letter
Write them a letter telling them to stop contacting you, keep a copy of it, and send the original to them certified mail, return receipt requested, as advised in the FTC’s Debt Collection FAQs for consumers.
Here’s the basic text of a letter I sent that worked for me:
To whom it may concern:
This letter is to inform you that effective immediately you may no longer contact me to attempt to collect a debt. According to the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, you may only contact me to tell me there will be no further contact, or to let me know that you or the creditor intend to take a specific action, like filing a lawsuit.
[my name and address]
According to the FTC,
“Once the collector receives your letter, they may not contact you again, with two exceptions: a collector can contact you to tell you there will be no further contact or to let you know that they or the creditor intend to take a specific action, like filing a lawsuit. Sending such a letter to a debt collector you owe money to does not get rid of the debt, but it should stop the contact. The creditor or the debt collector still can sue you to collect the debt.”
The nitty gritty on how to stop debt collectors from harassing you
In the United States, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act restricts what debt collectors can and can’t do.
The act aims to eliminate abusive practices by debt collectors when collecting debts. It also gives you some protection that you may not be aware of. You can read the act itself for detailed information. But let’s talk about a few of the highlights of it so you can get an idea of your rights.
Restrictions on debt collectors contacting you
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act places limits on when and where you can be contacted about your debt. Debt collectors are allowed to contact you in person, by mail (except post card), and by telephone, telegram, or fax. However, they can’t call you before 8 in the morning or after 9 at night your time. They also can’t call you at work if you tell them you’re not allowed to get calls at work. That notification doesn’t have to be in writing, either. (Although you’re always better off notifying debt collectors in writing.)
Debt collectors generally can’t keep contacting you if you send them a letter (similar to the one described above) stating that you don’t owe the debt or asking them not to contact you further.
It’s an excellent idea to send that letter certified mail, return receipt requested. (The post office has a form for that.) That way you have proof they got the letter.
Keep in mind, sending a letter asking them not to contact you doesn’t make your debt go away. And the debt collector can still contact you afterward in some cases. They can let you know:
- they are no longer trying to collect the debt
- that they’re planning to sue you or take other actions
- that they’re actually suing you or using other remedies
Restrictions on contacting others
A debt collector can’t usually talk about your debt with anyone other than you, your spouse, or your attorney. (If you have an attorney who is handling your debts.) In that case, the collectors must contact your attorney instead of you.
If you don’t have an attorney, collectors can contact other people, but only to find out certain things about you. (Your address, home phone number, and where you work.)
In that case, the collector is supposed to say who they are and that they’re verifying your location information. They’re not supposed to identify their employer unless asked, and aren’t supposed to tell others that you owe a debt.
They also can’t usually pester others multiple times to find out your contact information.
Restrictions on how a debt collector treats you
Basically, debt collectors aren’t allowed to:
- harass you
- threaten you with violence or illegal things
- swear at you
- lie or claim to be someone other than who they are
- or engage in unfair debt collection practices
For example, they can’t tell you you’ll be arrested for not paying your debts. (There are no debtors prisons in the United States.) And they can’t tell you paperwork they send isn’t a legal document if it is, or the other way around.
However, not every debt collector is honest. So keep in mind that some collectors will do those things anyway. If that happens, it’s a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and there are things you can do.
What to do about violations of the act
If you believe a debt collector is violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices act, you can report them to the Federal Trade Commission. Just go to their Complaint Assistant page, or call their helpline at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC will add the information you provide to their database and use it in their investigations and prosecutions.
But since the FTC can’t help with your individual issue, you’ll want to do more. Contact your state’s Attorney General’s office to see what they can do to help. That information can be found on the National Association of Attorneys General web site. The offices I’ve contacted in the past have been helpful.
One last thing about debt collectors…
Remember, you don’t have to talk to debt collectors. But it’s a good idea to do so at least once so you can figure out what they’re calling about.
You’re probably used to being polite to people who contact you, but good manners aren’t the most important thing here. There’s no reason to stay on the phone if you’re not getting anywhere or are upset by the calls.
Don’t let a collector guilt you into something that’s bad for you. Just work on taking care of your debts (and yourself!) as best you can.