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When a Debt Collector Calls, How Should You Answer?
November 17, 2015

The phone call from a debt collector never comes at a good time—but the best response is to confront the state of these affairs head-on. You may want to hide or ignore the situation and hope it goes away–but that can make things worse. Depending on your personal situation, there may be different steps to take.

First, be sure the debt collector and the debt are legitimate:

Find out:

  • Who you’re talking to (get the person’s name)
  • The name of the debt collection company
  • The company’s address and phone number
  • The name of the creditor

Ask the debt collector for:

  • The amount owed
  • The name of the creditor
  • How you can dispute the debt or verify the debt is yours

If the debt collector doesn’t tell you this information the first time it contacts you, ask for the information in writing. As with other business matters, get everything in writing before you proceed.

Second, identify the debt.

If you recognize the debt:  You can contact the debt collector and work out a repayment plan that makes sense for you

If the debt is several years old:  Before making a payment or agreeing to a payment plan for a debt that is old, find out what your state’s statute of limitations is for filing a lawsuit to collect the debt. You may wish to consult an attorney or the applicable law in your state.

If you’re not sure the debt is yours:  Write and ask for formal written verification of the debt, including: 1) the name and address of the original creditor (if different than the current creditor), 2) how much you owe, 3) proof the debt is yours

If the debt is not yours:  Write the debt collector to tell it the debt is not yours and that you do not want to be contacted about it again.

Third, keep your letters.

Keep the letters you receive and make copies of the letters you send in case you need to dispute the issue later.

Above all, remember: Harassment is illegal

The Fair Debt Collection Practice Act says debt collectors can’t harass, oppress, or abuse you or anyone else they contact.

For example, debt collectors can’t:

  • Make repeated phone calls that are intended to annoy, abuse, or harass you or any person answering the phone
  • Use obscene or profane language
  • Make threats of violence or harm
  • Publish lists of people who refuse to pay their debts (this does not include reporting information to a credit reporting company)
  • Call you without telling you who they are

If you believe a debt collector is harassing you, you can submit a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Remember, you don’t need to face a debt collector alone. If you have any questions about the above material, or wish to speak to an attorney, please contact HoganWillig at (716)636-7600. HoganWillig is located at 2410 North Forest Road in Amherst, New York 14068, with additional offices in Buffalo, Lancaster, and Lockport.

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