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|Federal Trade Commission
For The Consumer
Fair Debt Collection
If you use credit cards, owe money on a
personal loan, or are paying on a home
mortgage, you are a "debtor." If you fall
behind in repaying your creditors, or an error
is made on your accounts, you may be contacted
by a "debt collector."
You should know that in either situation, the
Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires
that debt collectors treat you fairly and
prohibits certain methods of debt collection.
Of course, the law does not erase any
legitimate debt you owe.
This brochure answers commonly asked questions
about your rights under the Fair Debt
Collection Practices Act.
What debts are covered?
Personal, family, and household debts are
covered under the Act. This includes money owed
for the purchase of an automobile, for medical
care, or for charge accounts.
Who is a debt collector?
A debt collector is any person who regularly
collects debts owed to others. This includes
attorneys who collect debts on a regular
How may a debt collector contact you?
A collector may contact you in person, by mail,
telephone, telegram, or fax. However, a debt
collector may not contact you at inconvenient
times or places, such as before 8 a.m. or after
9 p.m., unless you agree. A debt collector also
may not contact you at work if the collector
knows that your employer disapproves of such
Can you stop a debt collector from contacting
You can stop a debt collector from contacting
you by writing a letter to the collector
telling them to stop. Once the collector
receives your letter, they may not contact you
again except to say there will be no further
contact or to notify you that the debt
collector or the creditor intends to take some
specific action. Please note, however, that
sending such a letter to a collector does not
make the debt go away if you actually owe it.
You could still be sued by the debt collector
or your original creditor.
May a debt collector contact anyone else about
If you have an attorney, the debt collector
must contact the attorney, rather than you. If
you do not have an attorney, a collector may
contact other people, but only to find out
where you live, what your phone number is, and
where you work. Collectors usually are
prohibited from contacting such third parties
more than once. In most cases, the collector
may not tell anyone other than you and your
attorney that you owe money.
What must the debt collector tell you about the
Within five days after you are first contacted,
the collector must send you a written notice
telling you the amount of money you owe; the
name of the creditor to whom you owe the money;
and what action to take if you believe you do
not owe the money.
May a debt collector continue to contact you if
you believe you do not owe money?
A collector may not contact you if, within 30
days after you receive the written notice, you
send the collection agency a letter stating you
do not owe money. However, a collector can
renew collection activities if you are sent
proof of the debt, such as a copy of a bill for
the amount owed.
What types of debt collection practices are
Harassment. Debt collectors may not harass,
oppress, or abuse you or any third parties they
For example, debt collectors may not:
* use threats of violence or harm;
* publish a list of consumers who refuse to pay
their debts (except to a credit bureau);
* use obscene or profane language; or
repeatedly use the telephone to annoy
False statements. Debt collectors may not use
any false or misleading statements when
collecting a debt. For example, debt collectors
* falsely imply that they are attorneys or
* falsely imply that you have committed a
* falsely represent that they operate or work
for a credit bureau;
* misrepresent the amount of your debt;
* indicate that papers being sent to you are
legal forms when they are not; or
* indicate that papers being sent to you are
not legal forms when they are.
Debt collectors also may not state that:
* you will be arrested if you do not pay your
* they will seize, garnish, attach, or sell
your property or wages, unless the collection
agency or creditor intends to do so, and it is
legal to do so; or
* actions, such as a lawsuit, will be taken
against you, when such action legally may not
be taken, or when they do not intend to take
Debt collectors may not:
* give false credit information about you to
anyone, including a credit bureau;
* send you anything that looks like an official
document from a court or government agency when
it is not; or
* use a false name.
Unfair practices. Debt collectors may not
engage in unfair practices when they try to
collect a debt. For example, collectors may
* collect any amount greater than your debt,
unless your state law permits such
* deposit a post-dated check prematurely;
* use deception to make you accept collect
calls or pay for telegrams;
* take or threaten to take your property unless
this can be done legally; or
* contact you by postcard.
What control do you have over payment of
If you owe more than one debt, any payment you
make must be applied to the debt you indicate.
A debt collector may not apply a payment to any
debt you believe you do not owe.
What can you do if you believe a debt collector
violated the law?
You have the right to sue a collector in a
state or federal court within one year from the
date the law was violated. If you win, you may
recover money for the damages you suffered plus
an additional amount up to $1,000. Court costs
and attorney' s fees also can be recovered. A
group of people also may sue a debt collector
and recover money for damages up to $500,000,
or one percent of the collector' s net worth,
whichever is less.
Where can you report a debt collector for an
Report any problems you have with a debt
collector to your state Attorney General' s
office and the Federal Trade Commission. Many
states have their own debt collection laws, and
your Attorney General' s office can help you
determine your rights.