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The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act applies to those who collect debts owed to creditors for personal, family and household debts, including car loans, mortgages, charge accounts and money owed for medical bills. A debt collector is someone hired to collect money owed by you. A debt collector may not:

  • Contact you at unreasonable times or places, for example, before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you agree, or at work if you tell the debt collector your employer disapproves

  • Contact you after you write a letter to the collection agency telling them to stop, except to notify you if the debt collector or creditor intends to take some specific action

  • Contact your friends, relatives, employer or others, except to find out where you live and work, or tell such people that you owe money

  • Harass you by, for example, threats of harm to you or your reputation, use of profane language or repeated telephone calls

  • Make any false statement, including that you will be arrested

  • Threaten to have money deducted from your paycheck or to sue you, unless the collection agency or creditor intends to do so and it is legal

If you are contacted by a debt collector, you have a right to a written notice, sent within 5 days after you are first contacted, telling you the amount owed, the name of the creditor, and what action to take if you believe you don't owe the money. If you believe you do not owe the money or don't owe the amount claimed, contact the creditor in writing and send a copy to the debt collection agency with a letter telling them not to contact you. If you do owe the money or part of it, contact the creditor to arrange for payment.

If you end up with a collection agency harrassing you, write a letter requesting that the collector stop contacting you. Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), debt collection agencies and attorneys must stop contacting you after receiving a letter requesting that they quit. You should also indicate any illegal actions committed by the collector in this letter. Keep a copy of the letter for your records and also send a copy of the letter to the following address:

    Federal Trade Commission
    6th & Pennsylvania Ave.,
    NW, Washington, DC 20850

    To file a complaint online: FTC Online Complaint Form

After you send this letter, collectors may only contact you to acknowledge receipt of the request, to tell you their efforts have ended or to tell you that they are suing you. However, you should note that the FDCPA only applies to collection agencies and attorneys - it does not apply to in-house collection departments. Having said that, though, many creditors will honor the request.

If your letter fails to end the harassment, a letter from a lawyer usually will. Additionally, once you have hired a lawyer, the collection agency or creditor's attorney must only communicate to you through your lawyer. The other benefit of retaining an attorney is that they can help you raise legal claims under the FDCPA. The downside to hiring a lawyer is that it can be expensive and a lot of times you really only need to send a letter requesting that they stop contacting you.

The final solution is to file for bankruptcy. Once you file the initial papers for bankruptcy, you are automatically protected from collection activity. The collector must first obtain permission from the bankruptcy court before it can continue its collection efforts; and the court will not grant permission to those seeking to collect unsecured debts (such as credit card debt). Filing for bankruptcy is a very effective way to stop creditors from harassing you.

However, bankruptcy should not be entered into lightly and should not be used when your only concern is simply debt harassment. Bankruptcy filings will stay on your credit report for 7 to 9 years. It should only be used when you have grave financial problems. Simple debt harassment can usually be stopped with less drastic measures than bankruptcy.