7On your side: Debt collectors - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

7 On Your Side: Debt collectors

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If your phone rings and it's someone trying to collect a debt, there are certain rules they must follow or they can be subject to big fines -- and you have certain rights.

Lately, the Better Business Bureau has received complaints against collection agencies. BBB president Carmen Million said the law prevents certain tactics.

"A collection agency can call you between the hours of eight in the morning and nine at night. They can't harass you, but they can call you," said Million.

There are civil remedies available to debt collectors to try to force you to pay money you owe. But Million said if they tell you you're going to be arrested, it's not true and she said it's illegal for them to tell you that.

"We receive several calls a week from consumers who are told they are going to be arrested and these people are really fearful. And we want the public to know that is illegal. Law enforcement is not going to arrest you for a debt you know and you really need to investigate before you give your personal information," said Million.

To start, she said ask them for the last four digits of the Social Security number of the person they're calling for.

"Two scenarios can happen, one they will give you your Social Security number. If that's the case you have a right to request in writing a copy of whatever the debt is in relation to," said Million.

If they give somebody else's number she said, "If your name is James Brown, they're going to contact every James Brown in the State of Louisiana until they reach the proper one with the debt. And of course of you ignore the phone call and it is a legitimate collection agency, they're going to assume that you're the person that owes the debt so they're going to keep calling," said Million.

She said never give out personal information because the person claiming to be a debt collector may be a scammer trying to steal your identity.  

Local collection agency officials suggest contacting the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals" to see if the company is one that follows the guideline of a legitimate collection agency (952) 926-6547.

Tips from the Better Business Bureau follow this story.

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If you use credit cards or owe money on a loan, you are considered to be "in debt."  If you fall behind on a payment to your creditors, you may be contacted by a debt collector. Your Better Business Bureau has received a number of complaints against collection agencies and is reminding consumers about their rights.

Consumer complaints allege debt collectors used threats to force consumers into paying their alleged debt, did not provide adequate proof of the debt when requested and continuously harassed consumers after they were asked not to or told the debt was incorrect.

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act debt collectors are required to treat consumers fairly and are prohibited from certain methods of debt collection. For example, debt collectors are prohibited from harassing consumers or using false or misleading statements. Collectors may not state that a consumer will be arrested for failing to pay, that their property or wages will be seized, or that they are attorneys or government representatives.

Additionally under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, debt collectors:

May only contact you in person, by mail, telephone or fax. However, a debt collector may not contact you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.

Must stop contacting you if you write a letter to the collector telling the company to stop.

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, within five days of initial contact.

May not contact you if you send the collection agency a letter stating you do not owe the money within 30 days after you receive the written notice.

If you receive a call from a debt collector, BBB advises you to follow these steps:

Request written proof. By law, an agency should send a validation notice within five days of initially contacting you about the debt. Do not provide personal or financial information unless the validity of the debt and the debt collector has been confirmed.

Research the collector and/or agency. Get the debt collector's name and contact information. Check the company's BBB Business Review on bbb.org, and verify that the representative who called is affiliated with the agency.

Don't ignore errors. If you have no outstanding debts in your name, contact any involved parties to clear up inaccuracies on your credit report. Write a detailed letter and include supporting documents to prove your case.

Check for identity theft. If contacted by a collection agency regarding erroneous bills or debts, it could be an indication of identity theft. You can review your credit report for free once a year at www.annualcreditreport.com

Know where to turn. Report any problems with debt collectors to your Better Business Bureau, the Louisiana Attorney General and/or the Federal Trade Commission.

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