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Are debt collectors calling you all day long, buzzing your phone early in the morning and late at night? Maybe they’re calling your friends, family members and co-workers, telling them that you aren’t paying your bills. Maybe they’ve even threatened to have you arrested.

These are all forms of harassment. Collection agencies aren’t allowed to engage in these tactics, even if you legitimately owe money to the creditors they represent.

Fortunately, you do have rights, spelled out in the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. And if collection agencies are violating them, you can contact several federal agencies to get them to stop.

Be aware, though, that not all contact from debt collection agencies is considered harassment. These agencies are allowed to call you, and, in certain cases, your family members, friends and co-workers, while trying to get you to pay your debt. And if you legitimately owe money, your creditors can initiate legal action against you.

But when debt collection agencies cross the line, you should respond. Harassment is never allowed.

Understanding Your Rights

Geoff Scott, payments consultant for Middleburg, Virginia-based payment processing service PayMotile.com, says that his company frequently works with debt collection agencies, helping them to open their own bank accounts. He says the only way PayMotile can earn a living when working with these agencies is to make sure they don’t harass the people indebted to them.

“Debt collectors who get in trouble with the FTC end up being burdens rather than assets,” Scott says.

Scott says that consumers need to understand their rights when they’re being contacted by debt collectors. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act states that collections can’t legally use vulgar language when communicating with those who owe money. They can’t threaten these people, either.

The act says that debt collectors are not allowed to call people before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m. They can contact friends, family members or co-workers, but only to ask for your telephone number and address. They can’t call to discuss your debt.

Collectors aren’t allowed to lie, either. Scott says they can’t claim to be a member of law enforcement or make up a false company name and claim that it’s their employer.

Reporting Debt Collector Harassment

If you do feel that a collection agency is harassing you, reach out to the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Scott says that these agencies work together to punish collection agencies that engage in abusive or deceptive collection tactics.

Don’t let embarrassment over your debt prevent you from taking action should a debt collector harass you. Even if you legitimately owe money, collection agencies are not allowed to call you several times a day, harass your family members or threaten to have you arrested.

“Having a debt collector call can be a scary thing,” says Joyce Blue, a money relationship expert in Boise, Idaho. “Know that you aren’t alone, and don’t feel ashamed about it. The worst thing to do is to ignore the calls. Speaking to them isn’t an admission of guilt.”

Kevin Gallegos, vice president of Phoenix operations for Freedom Debt Relief, says that you also don’t have to speak with a collection agency immediately. If you pick up the phone and aren’t yet prepared to have a conversation about your unpaid debt, ask for the collection agency to call you back later.

This way, you can plan out more carefully what you’d like to say when the debt collector does call back.

If you want debt collectors to stop calling, you can do this by both writing them a letter telling them that you refuse to accept their calls and that they are not to call you in the future. Once they receive such a letter, collection agencies can only call you to let you know that your creditors are taking legal action against you.

Debt Doesn’t Disappear

Just be aware, that getting collectors to stop calling doesn’t mean that your debt obligation disappears.

“This won’t relieve you of your debt, and you may still get taken to court, but the collector can no longer legally call you except to mention their intent to sue or pursue a legal course of action,” Scott says.

Scott recommends that consumers who legitimately owe money to creditors try to work out a payment plan. Such a plan will allow you to pay back what you owe in monthly installments that are designed to fit within your budget.

This is a better approach than trying to dodge all those collections calls.

“Many collection agencies are ready to work with you on getting your debt paid off, even if it needs to be done over time,” Scott says.

It’s important to realize, too, that though debt collectors might be intimidating, they don’t have much real power, Gallegos says.

“There is little that a collection agency can do other than call and send letters asking for payment,” he says.

Do you have any tips for those who may be experiencing debt collection harassment? Let us know in the comments below.

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