How to fight back against debt collectors

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – What do you do if debt collectors come calling, even when you don’t owe money? It happens frequently to people in East Tennessee and the person on the other line sometimes makes threats that would put anyone on edge.

Many people who called the 6 On Your Side Hotline said they were told by a caller there’s an arrest warrant being sent over an unpaid debt or received a text message saying their payment was declined and to immediately call a number.

Both messages are illegal scare tactics that unsavory debt collectors may use in their attempts to squeeze cash from you, even if you don’t owe anyone any money.

Debt collection businesses must abide by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, a federal law. Federal courts have banned dozens of firms from participating in the debt collection business due to abuse allegations.

Under the act, practices that are off limits for debt collectors include lying about the amount you owe, using foul language, making threats of violence or harm, and calling repeatedly to annoy you. Also under the act, debt collectors can’t call you at work if you have told them orally or in writing that your employer doesn’t allow such calls.

They’re prohibited from publishing a list of people with outstanding debts. They can’t falsely claim to be a lawyer or someone who works for a government agency as a means of deceiving you. They can’t falsely claim you have committed a crime or will be arrested.

Additionally, debt collectors must send you what’s known as a “validation notice” in writing, and it must be sent within five days of first contacting you. That notice must include the amount of money you owe, the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money, and how you should proceed if you don’t think you owe the money.

What you do upon receipt of a validation notice affects what debt collectors can do going forward. The Federal Trade Commission says if you send the debt collector a letter stating that you don’t owe any or all of the money, or ask for verification of the debt, that collector must stop contacting you. You have to send that letter within 30 days after you receive the validation notice.

If a debt collector fails to do what is required of them, tell them you know your rights and will file a complaint. The FTC advises that you report abuse to the commission as well as the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and either the Tennessee or Kentucky state attorney general’s office.

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