Q: I received a voicemail recently from someone who said he was calling from a debt collection agency. I don’t believe that I am behind on any debt. What should I do?
A: While these calls can be intimidating, you are guaranteed certain protections under the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) of 1996. The first thing you should do is check your credit history through www.annualcreditreport.com and determine whether you do, in fact, have a debt in collection. If not, the call may be fraudulent ,and you should contact the N.H. Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Bureau at 1-888-468-4454.
If, however, your credit report does show a debt in collection — right or wrong, the best thing to do is to call the collection agency back immediately. If you have a debt you forgot about, you will likely be able to set up a repayment plan with the debt collector and start repairing your credit history. If you believe a mistake has been made on your report, the agency must help you resolve the discrepancy by sending you a written validation notice of the debt within five days, including information on how to proceed to clear the record.
While it is being resolved, you have a right not to be contacted by the collection agency. Simply make a written request that the collection agency cease all communication with you and any other person regarding your alleged debt. Make a copy of this letter and send the original by certified mail with a “return receipt.”
Once the agency receives the letter, it must obey your request. It may only contact you to confirm that it is ceasing communication or that it is taking a specific action, such as filing a lawsuit to collect the debt. Under the FDCPA, a collection agency is also prohibited from contacting third parties, besides your spouse or attorney, except for the limited purpose of trying to locate you. And even for this limited purpose, the collection agency may not contact a third party more than once or state that you owe a debt.
If you believe that a debt collection agency has violated any of these or the many other rules outlined in the FDCPA or on the Federal Trade Commission website, you should contact the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Bureau. In addition, you may personally bring suit, under the FDCPA, against debt collectors in state or federal court within one year of a violation of the law.
Andrew Hamilton can be reached at email@example.com.
Know the Law is a bi-weekly column sponsored by The McLane Law Firm.
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