In Oregon and Washington, if you stop making full payments on your bills, a creditor will likely turn your account over to a collection agency, a business that specializes in collecting unpaid bills. It is legal for a creditor to turn your bill over to a collection agency regardless of whether you’ve offered to make small payments on your bill and even if you’ve told the creditor that you would make full payments as soon as you could. Once an account is transferred, collection agencies can start sending you correspondence, calling you at home and demanding that you to pay the bill. They must, however, stop doing so if you send a letter that either asks them to stop, or tells them that you will not pay the debt. If you send this type of letter, the collection agency is only allowed to contact you one more time, and only to tell you either that they will stop contacting you or that they may take some kinds of legal actions. Make sure to keep a copy of the letter that you send, and make a note as to the date, time, and location from which you send it. Collection agencies can collect late charges and interest on the debt that is owed if there is a written a written agreement allowing it. If there is no contract, they can collect interest of up to 9 percent each year on the amount of the unpaid bill. They cannot charge you for their own collection costs, such as long distance phone bills. If a collection agency is harassing you, write a letter to them and tell them to stop contacting you. Always keep a copy of the letter, and make a note as to the date, time, and location from which you sent it. If the collection agency keeps calling and writing or does other things they legally cannot do, keep a record of what happened, who you spoke with and what was said. Try to have someone listen in on phone conversations you have with the agency so you have a witness. Keep any collection notices you receive in the envelopes in which they were mailed. Do not write on them. You can sue the collector if they do anything illegal when trying to collect a bill. If you win your case, the collection agency will have to pay you money damages plus your lawyer’s fees. Contact a lawyer if you think the creditor did anything unlawful when trying to collect the debt. Original creditors are subject to Oregon law that, on a more limited basis, prohibits certain types of abusive conduct by creditors. Contact a lawyer for more information. Collection Agencies must do the following:
- Register with the state.
- Contact your lawyer, not you, if you told the agency you have a lawyer.
- Identify themselves and their purpose for calling within the first 30 seconds of the call.
- Cease contact if you send a letter that demands they stop contacting you or that says you will not pay the bill. (Send by certified mail and keep a copy.)
- Within five days after they first contact you, send you written notice that says how much money you owe, to whom it is owed, and what rights you have if you don’t think you owe on the bill.
- Cease collection attempts until they give you a written verification of your debt if you dispute the debt in writing within 30 days of receiving the first notice.
What Collection Agencies must not do the following:
- Talk or even threaten to talk to your employer about your debts.
- Threaten to use force or violence against you or your family.
- Threaten you with arrest for nonpayment. It is not a crime to have unpaid bills.
- Tell other people about your debt.
- Use vulgar language when talking to you or your family.
- See or call you at work (unless unable to contact you at home or reach you by mail or some other way).
- Try to collect money when they know or should know that the person they are contacting does not owe them money.
- Send collection notices by postcard or have ‘collection’ appear on the envelope.
- Send notices that look like court papers or other official papers but really are not.
- Threaten to take your property to pay off a debt without telling you a court hearing is first required (when a hearing is required).