Attorney Sergei Lemberg, who specializes in fair debt collection law is sitting in the guest blogger’s chair today. Lemberg is the head of Lemberg & Associates, LLC, a team of attorneys located in several states across the country who specialize in collection law and lemon law.
When people get behind in their bills, they receive past due notices from creditors. If those notices go unheeded, typically what happens next is that the phone rings and there's a debt collector on the line. While most consumers aren't surprised for the call, they're unaware of what to do when that call comes in. Here are five survival tips:
1. Don't avoid the call. No one wants to answer a call from a debt collector. But, as tempting as it might be to avoid a collection call, that will just fan the flames and lead to harassment, threats, or worse.
2. Keep good records. Most bill collection agencies – especially those who have purchased large quantities of old debt for a song – try and get around the law or even break the law. If you're receiving calls or letters from a debt collector, keep a record of the date and time of each call or the date you received the letter. For phone calls, jot down the debt collector's name, the time of the call, and what was said. The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act has strict requirements about debt collection calls. If you choose to sue the debt collector for harassment, your written record will provide key evidence.
3. Watch for a letter. According to the FDCPA, a bill collection agency must, within 5 days of calling, send you a written notice. The letter must include specific information, such as the name of the creditor, the amount owed, and that you have 30 days to dispute the debt or it will be assumed that you agree that you owe the money. If no letter arrives, the debt collector has violated the FDCPA. Often, bill collection agencies count on consumers not knowing that they have 30 days to dispute, and let the clock run out before upping the ante.
4. Dispute the debt. Unless you have the money to pay off the debt, dispute the debt within 30 days. Even if you owe the money, forcing the debt collector to substantiate the debt gives you some time to put together a plan. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act says that a bill collector cannot continue to collect on the debt until it's verified. If they continue to try and collect while the debt is in dispute, they're violating the law.
5. Contact a fair debt attorney. The FDCPA says that, if you have a lawyer, a debt collection agency must stop contacting you, and that all communication must go through your lawyer. If you've been the victim of debt collector harassment, an attorney should represent you free of charge. That's because the law says that, if a debt collector violates the law, the debt collection agency must pay for your attorney fees.