Even the most vigilant, conscientious consumers may have to deal with a collection agency at some point. It could be because a bill was overlooked at some point. It may be because the consumer disputed the debt, and refused to pay the original creditor. Or, it could be because the consumer is a victim of identity theft, or has been contacted in error. [i] Regardless of the reason, there are some simple rules to follow.
DO: Request verification of the debt, and insist that all future communications with respect to the debt be done in writing.[ii]
DON’T: Lose your temper, make any threats, or admit liability for the debt. Inevitably, all phone conversations will be recorded, and potentially used against you.
DO: Keep a written log of the date, time, and name of the caller for every call, as well as a brief summary of the discussion. These records may assist you if you dispute the debt, or attempt to file claim against the collection agency later on.
DON’T: Make a payment arrangement or negotiate a compromise over the phone, unless the collection agency agrees to send it in writing to commemorate the agreement later on. The agent you talk to today may not be the same one you deal with days/weeks/months later.
DO: Save any threatening or harassing messages which are left on your voicemail.
DON’T: EVER give permission to a collection agency to draft money out of your bank or credit union account. Some unscrupulous agencies will seek to withdraw more than the agreed amount, or even the full balance.
DO: Contact an attorney if you believe that the collection agency is violating the law, or threatening action which they do not have the legal result to pursue – for instance, threatening arrest. You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov.
DON’T: Be bullied/coerced into a repayment arrangement that you know you can’t afford.[iii]
DO: Contact a bankruptcy attorney if you are served with a lawsuit or garnishment from a collection agency.
[i] Several years ago, I began receiving collection calls for a Mary “Doe” on my home phone. After much aggravation, I was able to learn that this individual had bounced checks all over the CSRA, and that my phone number had been provided as verification on the checks. My efforts at correcting the matter were futile, and I eventually had to change my phone number. Consequently, I write this from both a personal and professional perspective.