Debt Collection Harassment:
8 Things You Can Do To Protect Yourself
Once debt collectors have you on their list, they call, and call, and call . . . bothering until you sending them money.
Of course they ignore your request to stop calling. Then the calls turn from a bother into outright harassment. At this point, the debt collector crosses the line and sometimes violates the law. What can you do?
In Florida, consumers are protected under state and federal law against this and other kinds of harassment. These laws afford consumers protection against unfair or deceptive collection practices, abusive conduct, such as calling late at night or before 8am, using foul language or making certain kinds of threats.
State and federal law also protects consumers from compromising their privacy by debt collectors exposing information about a debt exposed to other people. An important feature of federal consumer protection law gives consumers a method to dispute the debt that the debt collector cannot ignore. It also gives the consumer a right to stop debt collection calls.
If debt collectors are hounding you, here are some steps you can take to protect yourself.
Don’t wait for the debt collectors to call you.
The biggest mistake consumers make is sitting back and waiting for the debt collector sharks to start circling. And when they do, you are vulnerable. Don’t wait. Collect information about your unpaid debts and develop a plan of attack.
Start by making a list of the debts, how is owed and calculate any payments that do not appear to have been applied to your account. Check to see if your payment records (checkbook, online payments, etc.) match the creditor’s statements. Then, decide which accounts you want to try working out first, second, third and so forth.
This will help you prioritize on your terms, not by the threats or harassment of the
Don’t Assume the Debts are valid or collectable.
Consumer debts are contractual obligations. Although most want to respect the contracts and obligations, sometimes the debts become unenforceable because the creditor or the debt collector waited too long. Under the law, this is a legitimate defense because the account owner has given up the legal right to demand that debt from you.
State and federal laws protect consumers from debt collectors trying to enforce these old debts.
Sometimes, accounts that appear legitimate are invalid or uncollectable for other reasons. So, it important not to assume the debt collector is right. Always demand proof of the obligation to make sure this is a legitimate debt that is collectable under the law.
Don’t trust their math. Do your own.
Let’s face it many of us are not great dealing with the kind of complex math needed to analyze our debts. Calculating proper interest and penalties can be intimidating, but not impossible. Take the time to do these calculations and be prepared to strike back when you catch the debt collectors lying about how much is actually owed and additional charges which may or may not be authorized under the contract.
Debt collectors who misrepresent the debt may be violating federal and state law. These violations provide leverage to get the debt settled for a lesser amount. Do the math. It matters.
Make them show you the contract!
So, a debt collector shark you’ve never heard of claims you owe them money. Really?
MAKE THEM PROVE IT!
This important test is one that many creditors cannot pass. Demand the documents – all of the documents – early and often. Then, fight back when they cannot prove the debt. A con man would have the same difficult time proving the debt. Don’t take any of at face value.
Proof is step one. It’s important not to assume that because the debt collector has sent you some paper about the debt that their claim is accurate. Examine carefully the amounts they seek to collect. Only after being satisfied the claim is valid and accurate would it be safe to negotiate with the debt collector.
Take notes. Then take down the debt collector.
Too many unscrupulous debt collector sharks are engaging in abusive debt collection practices. Take notes when they call and keep a detailed log of all conversations and all written communications with the debt collectors.
Keep a record of the date and time they call, what demand or threat they made with each call and how the call ended. For example, record the debt collector threats to take some action, like suing you, reporting the account to the credit reporting agencies, talking to your friends or neighbors, threatening arrest or harassing you until payment is received.
This kind of evidence is leverage to potentially getting the account settled or to sue the debt collector for violation of federal or state law.
You don’t need to actually record their abusive language on the phone, although this is great evidence. Be aware recording laws vary by state.
Protect your assets. Don’t make yourself an easy target.
It’s important to know some debt collectors bypass important consumer protection laws to get at funds in your bank accounts, or, in cases of student loans, intercept tax refunds.
Before you know it, the debt collector has your money. Sending information that gives the debt collector information about your bank account, such as sending a check or providing bank information, opens the door for garnishments – the process by which account funds are transferred to the debt collector without your knowledge or consent. Under nearly all state laws, when garnishment occurs the bank customer is notified afterward, not before. Then, it’s too late.
Keep your bank account information private.
By keeping your account information private, unless compelled by court order, there is at least some degree of protection.
Know debt collection laws better than the debt collector.
Gaining knowledge about important consumer protections laws is one of the best things you can invest in, right now. Learn the things debt collectors cannot say or do when trying to collect on a consumer debt. This helps to stop the abuse right away. These laws empower consumers to demand the debt collector stop making calls to your place of employment and to communicate with you only in writing.
Recognizing debt collector abuse is the first step in stopping it. Start learning about this now.
Hire an attorney.
Debt collectors hate when a lawyer gets involved.
They know the consumer’s lawyers isn’t going to tolerate any abuse and can readily file a lawsuit when debt collectors violate federal and state laws. An attorney can shield you from ongoing harassment. Why? Because debt collectors cannot have direct contact with a consumer who has an attorney.
An attorney can stop the harassing phone calls, examine the debt collector’s claim to see if it is legitimate and if so, negotiate a settlement. Involving an attorney EARLY in the debt collection process is especially important when there are high account balances being collected because these are likely to become a lawsuit. The attorney can provide legal advice and represent you in the event a lawsuit is filed.
It is really important to hire an attorney that can fight for you. Some lawyers are not accustomed to going into court and fighting lawsuits. These attorneys may have good intentions, and may be able to give some advice before there is a lawsuit, but are not equipped to deal with real court battles. Having to quickly find the right attorney after a lawsuit is filed can be stressful. In Florida you only have 20 days to respond to a lawsuit filed against you. Without a timely response, the debt collector can easily win and that will be the beginning of a new set of nightmares for the consumer.
Hire an attorney early and be prepared.
If you need help with a debt collection matter CALL US TODAY. 727-954-8752