Stop debt collector's harassing phone calls


Opening Credits
Columnist Erica Sandberg
Erica Sandberg is a prominent personal finance authority and author of "Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families." She writes "Opening Credits," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues for people who are new to credit, for

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Question Dear Opening Credits,
I have had a big problem with collectors harassing me. My family members get phone calls at all times. And when I see them, I'm told they get a lot of debt phone calls for me. This is not normal at all. Please let me know if they are pushing their limits . One creditor I am paying monthly, but this one? I have no idea where she came from. Please help. -- Atour


Dear Atour,
When it comes to debt collectors, there can be a fine line between legal and illegal communication. Certainly collectors may contact people who owe them money by phone to request a payment, but they can't harass the person or anyone associated with the debtor.

It sounds as though employees from the collection agency that you're paying are not calling. That makes sense because you're giving them what they want: money. Another collector is contacting you because you likely have another outstanding balance. The person you're dealing with most likely works for the agency that bought the account from the original creditor that did not get paid. Sometimes collectors buy accounts from other collection agencies as well, so who knows how many times your debt has been sold.

Whoever she works for, you need to know the law that pertains to these third party collection agencies. It's called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and it stipulates how and when a collector can communicate with people. Here are the rules regarding phone calls:

  • Times. Debt collectors must drum their fingers on their desk, waiting for the clock to hit 8 a.m. in the morning before ringing you. At the stroke of 9 p.m., they must stop. Your time, not theirs.
  • Places. Collectors may call you at your home as well as on your cell phone. They can also attempt to reach you at your work number, unless you tell them you are not allowed to receive calls of a personal nature at work.. Collectors can call your employer to verify that you work there or to get your address or telephone number. What they cannot do is discuss your debt.
  • Number of calls per day. Here is where it gets a little hazy. The law does not specify an exact number of calls a collector can place per day. However, repeated and continuous calls are considered abusive.
  • Involving other people. Collectors are not allowed to discuss your account with anyone other than you, your spouse and your attorney. It is possible that your family members deduced that the calls are from debt collectors because the person had a gruff demeanor and explains that it is very important that you call back right away. That's legal. Saying you owe them money is not.
  • What they can say. When collectors speak with you, they can demand payment. While they don't have to be nice, they must be honest. No pretending to be someone else to scare you or tell you that they're going to sue you when they won't or toss you in jail when they can't.

The next time you get a call, ask the collector to verify the debt and to mail that information to you. Since you seem to be unclear which debt you are being called about, it is the responsibility of the collector to be able to show you who the original creditor was and what the amount owed is. Provided that the debt is truly yours, you then need to send what you owe or try to set up an installment plan. Once you do that,  they'll have no reason to communicate with you. If the calls continue, you can tell the debt collector, in writing, to stop contacting you. That does not prevent them from suing you for nonpayment, however.

If you don't believe the debt is legitimate or if it's so old that they cannot sue you any longer (check the  statute of limitations for your state), you may send a cease-and-desist letter. This is a formal notice to end all forms of communication -- calls, letters, texts and emails. Upon receipt, the collector may not contact you again unless it is to inform you that they will abide by your request or to tell you that they'll take an action, such as filing a lawsuit.

If you believe collectors are violating the law, take your own action: Report them to the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also has sample letters that you can send to a debt collector, ranging from requesting more information about a debt to stop all contact.

See related: Know your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

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Published: January 20, 2016

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Updated: 10-23-2016

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