A debt collector may contact you over the telephone, by mail,
in person, or by fax. The debt collector cannot call you at unreasonable times
or places. Typically, this means that they should not call you before 8:00 a.m. in the
morning or after 9:00 p.m. at night unless you agree to let them call you at those hours.
A debt collector may call you at work unless you let them know that their employer
disapproves of this. If you do get contacted at work, immediately notify the debt
collector if your employer prohibits this.
You can request that the collector stop contacting you. You
should do this by writing a letter to the debt collection agency in addition to telling
them over the telephone. Be sure to keep a copy of the letter for your own records. When
the debt collection agency receives the letter, they should not contact you again except
to tell you if they are going to take specific action concerning the debt.
The debt collector may contact other people such as friends,
relatives, or neighbors to find out information about where you live and work. Normally
they can only contact these people once. In most cases, they are not allowed to tell these
people about your debt, but only obtain information about your address and work.
If an attorney represents you on this debt, notify the debt
collector of your attorney's name, address and phone number. The debt collector should
then contact only the attorney.
A debt collector may contact you initially by telephone. If
they do, they are required to send you a written notice within five days telling you the
amount of the debt you owe, the name of the creditor that you owe the money to, and what
action you should take if you do not owe the money.
If you do not owe all or part of the money that is being
collected, you can request that the debt collector verify the debt. For example, if you
signed a loan agreement, you can request that they send you a copy of this document. If
you dispute the debt, you should notify the debt collector in writing within 30 days after
you are first contacted by the collection agency. You should write them a letter
explaining why you do not owe the money and requesting that they verify the debt. During
the 30-day period after you are first contacted, the collection agency should not contact
you again until they provide you proof of the debt.
Debt collectors can call you and request that you pay the
debt. However, they cannot harass you or abuse you. These are the types of things that
they should not do:
- Use obscene or profane language.
- Make repeated frequent calls to annoy you.
- Telephone you without identifying themselves.
- Use threats of violence or harm against you.
- Threaten to arrest you if you do not pay the debt.
- Threaten to take action such as lawsuits, garnishments, or
taking your property unless the collector intends to do so and it is legal. (Creditors
must usually take you to court and get a court "judgment" against you before
they are able to garnish your wages in Missouri.)
Debt collectors cannot make false statements about themselves
or the debts. They cannot misrepresent:
- they are government officials;
- that you have committed a crime;
- that they work for the "credit bureau";
- that the papers you received are legal summonses
or legal papers, if they are not;
- the amount of your debt; or
- that there is an attorney involved, if there is not.
Debt collectors are also prohibited from:
- depositing a post-dated check before it is due;
- threatening to take your property unless it is legal to do so;
- contacting you by postcard.
If you owe more than one debt to the same collector, you can
specify the debt you are paying. If you clearly indicate that you are paying one account,
the debt collector should apply the payment to the account you request. You should always
keep records of your payments and correspondence with any debt collector.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act gives you a right to
sue in state or federal court within one year from the violation. If you win, you can
recover damages for your loss, court costs, and attorney's fees. Remember that the
one-year period runs from the date the debt collector violated the law. You should act
promptly to contact an attorney if you believe a debt collector has violated the law. If
you fail to file your suit within one year of the violation, you lose your right to do so.
You can also notify the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of
violations. They cannot file lawsuits on your behalf, but they can investigate your
complaints. Their address is: Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission,
Washington, D.C. 20580. You can also file a complaint through the Internet.
You should always keep copies of everything that the debt
collection agency sends you. Use a file folder or large envelope and keep all of your
letters together. Always keep copies of everything that you send to them.
When they call you, be sure to jot down notes of the exact
words they used while talking to you on the telephone. Right after you hang up, write a
summary of everything they told you, and what you told them. Note the date and time they
called you. Be sure to write down their names and telephone numbers and the company they
If you believe you have been harassed by any debt collector,
you should contact an attorney for specific legal advice on your problem. If you are
elderly, or have low income, please call Legal Aid of Western Missouri for further
information or advice.
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