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What is a Debt Collector?

Are you being harassed by a debt collector or someone calling from a debt collection agency? What is a debt collector or collection agency and how are they allowed to attempt to collect on a debt you do not even owe to them?

Debt Collector vs. Creditor

A debt collector differs from a creditor and the difference between the two can be important if you are being harassed and wish to make the harassment stop or need to determine if you have a claim against the company attempting to collect the debt.

A creditor is a person or company that a consumer owes an original debt to for goods or services. Common creditors include: 

  • Banks, mortgage companies, and financial institutions that provide consumer loans
  • Plumbers, accountants, and other professionals or tradesmen
  • Credit card companies
  • Healthcare providers
  • Governmental entities to whom you owe money for fines, fees, or taxes
  • Landlords or rental companies

A debt collector or collection agency is a person or company hired by a creditor to collect a debt for them. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) defines debt collector as:

“Any person who regularly collects, or attempts to collect, consumer debts for another person or institution or uses some name other than its own when collecting its own consumer debts.”

How can a Debt Collector Harass Me for Money I Owe to Someone Else?

Debt collectors are hired by creditors to attempt to collect debts for them. Contract law allows the creditor to hire someone else to perform duties it would otherwise perform for itself, such as collecting past due accounts. Once the debt collection agency has been hired, a consumer must work with it in order to resolve the unpaid account. Debt Collectors are subject to the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and may not use any unfair, abusive, or deceptive practices while attempting to collect on a debt. They are specifically prohibited from:

  • Calling consumers before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m.
  • Causing a consumer's telephone to ring continuously in order to harass them
  • Threatening jail or criminal prosecution if a debt is not paid
  • Using obscene or profane language
  • Threatening to take any action it is not legally allowed to take

This is not an all inclusive list, and any tactic that is deceptive, abusive, or unfair may be in violation of the FDCPA. Many states also have laws that mirror the FDCPA and a debt collector or creditor who is harassing a consumer may also be in violation of those laws.

What Can I Do If a Debt Collector is Harassing Me?

If you are unsure if you owe the debt the debt collector is attempting to collect you should ask them to send you verification of the debt. Verification is required by the FDCPA and should include the name of the original creditor, the amount owed, and any contracts or judgments proving that you owe the debt. If you do in fact owe the debt, you can attempt to negotiate with the debt collector to pay less than the full amount owed or to make monthly payments towards the debt or you can decide not to pay the debt at all. Once you have chosen not to pay the debt, you should send a letter to the debt collector informing them that you are not going to pay the debt and asking them to stop contacting you. Make sure to keep a copy of the letter for yourself. You should also mail a copy to the Federal Trade Commission at 6th and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20850. The debt collector is then only allowed to contact you one more time in order to confirm receipt of your letter, let you know that they will stop contacting you, and inform you of any legal action it intends to take in order to collect on the debt.

If you are getting harassing calls from a debt collector please contact our office for a free, no obligation consultation at 1-800-219-3577.

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