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Debt CollectionPosted Tuesday, April 3, 2012, at 9:34 AM
Sometimes in these difficult economic times it's hard to make ends meet. As the saying goes "Just when I thought I was going to be able to make ends meet someone moved the end." That can happen to most of us at one time or another. That may be when we start getting those phone calls from "Debt Collectors." One of the things we need to remember is they are just doing their job, they probably don't want to call you anymore than you want to hear from them. But according to a brochure by the Federal Trade Commission there are rules that must be followed.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires debt collectors to treat you fairly and certain methods of debt collection are prohibited. Personal, family and household debts are covered under the Act. A collector may contact you in person, by mail, telephone, telegram, or fax. They may not contact you at inconvenient times or places, such as before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m. unless you agree. They may not contact you at work if you tell them that your employer disapproves of such contacts.
If you write a letter telling a debt collector to stop contacting you they must stop. This does not mean that the debt will go away, they may decide at that time to take other methods to collect the debt such as garnishment or court action.
The collector may contact someone else to find out where you live, what your phone number is and where you work. Generally they are prohibited from contacting such third parties more than once. In most cases they are not allowed to tell anyone other than you and your attorney that you owe money.
Within five days after you are first contacted, the collector must send you a written notice telling you the amount of money you owe, the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money and what action to take if you believe you do not owe the money.
If you feel you do not owe the debt you should send a letter to the collection agency within 30 days saying so. However, a collector can renew collection activities if you are sent proof of the debt, such as a copy of the bill for the amount owed.
The debt collector may not use threats of violence or harm; they may not publish a list of consumers who refuse to pay their debts (except to a credit bureau); they may not use obscene or profane language or repeatedly use the telephone to annoy someone. Neither shall they use false or misleading statements, for example: they may not falsely imply that they are attorneys or government representatives; falsely imply that you have committed a crime; falsely represent that they work for a credit bureau; mislead you about the legality of papers they send to you.
Debt collectors may not state that you will be arrested if you do not pay your debt or that they will seize your property or wages unless it is legal to seize them and the collection agency does fully intend to do so. They are not allowed to threaten a lawsuit unless a lawsuit is legal in the case. Debt collectors may not give false credit information about you to anyone including a credit bureau, nor shall they use a false name.
Debt collectors shall not engage in unfair practices such as collect any amount greater than your debt, deposit a post-dated check prematurely, and use deception to make you accept collect calls or contact you by postcard.
If you owe more than one debt any payment must be applied to the debt you indicate and never to a debt you believe you do not owe.
If you believe a debt collector has violated the law you have a right to sue within one year from the date the law was violated. You can report any problems you have with a debt collector to your state Attorney General's office and the Federal Trade Commission. Your Attorney General's office can help you determine your rights. To file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or to get free information on consumer issues visit www.ftc.gov or call toll-free 1-877-382-4357; TTY: 1-866-653-4261.
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Ruth Dockins is the Public Information Director for the Southeast Missouri Area Agency on Aging and author of 'Age Spots,' a column/blog which is featured in several Southeast Missouri newspapers and is devoted to seniors and senior lifestyles.
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