1. Insist on specific information about the debt. Tell the collector you will not discuss the debt until you receive the documents and review them. That is the law — within five days after you are first contacted, the collector must send you a written notice detailing the amount of money you owe, the name of the creditor and what action you should take if you believe you do not owe the money.
  2. Any behavior by a debt collector toward a consumer over the phone, in writing or in person that is disrespectful or unfair is illegal, as are any false statements. You have the right to sue the collector for monetary damages for his misconduct.
  3. If you believe that you don’t owe the money — the collector is in error, the debt is so old that the statute of limitations has run out, or you have been a victim of identity theft — send the collection agency a letter stating that you do not owe the debt. You must do so within 30 days after receiving written notice. But if the collector sends you proof that you owe the money, he can resume contacting you.
  4. In any phone conversation with a debt collector, ask for and write down the name of the agency, the caller and the phone number. Keep a log of contacts, recording the date and time of the call, the collector’s name and agency, and a summary of the conversation.
  5. Send correspondence to debt collectors by certified mail and request a return receipt. Keep a copy of the return receipt and of correspondence with the collector.
  6. If you do owe the debt and decide to pay, get a statement of the amount you owe before sending money. You may be able to negotiate a lower amount. Send a cover letter with any payment outlining the terms under which you are paying, as well as identifying information about the debt. Also, send payments by certified mail and request a return receipt.
  7. Do not take abuse from debt collectors — simply hang up. Also, you do not have to give them personal information, such as your Social Security number or the name of your employer.
  8. Be aware that debt collectors cannot contact you at unreasonable times; harass, oppress or abuse you; threaten violence or harm; use obscene language; or repeatedly annoy you by phone. They cannot make false statements, such as implying they are attorneys or government representatives, or claim that you will be arrested if you don’t pay your debt. They also cannot collect an amount greater than your debt, unless state law permits.
  9. If you believe a debt collector has violated the law, you have the right to sue him in state or federal court within one year of the date of the violation.
  10. Report problems with debt collectors to your state attorney general’s office and the Federal Trade Commission. You can also contact your military legal assistance office.  

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