Debt collection companies are required to follow certain rules. (Elise Amendola, AP )
Debt collectors calling? You have rights.
• The debt collector must tell you — within five days of initial contact — the amount you owe, the name of the creditor and how you should proceed if you think you don't owe the money. If you dispute the debt, send the collection agency a letter within 30 days saying so. Once the debt collection company receives your letter, it must stop trying to collect until it sends you written proof of the amount you owe.
• Debt collectors may not call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. unless you say it's OK. They may not call you at work if they know, or if you tell them, that your employer prohibits such calls. If you tell them to contact you only by mail or not to contact you at all, they must comply (it's best to put your request in writing). If you have an attorney representing you over the debt, the collector must deal with the lawyer, not you.
• Collection agents may not "harass, oppress or abuse you or any third parties they contact," the Federal Trade Commission states. They may not threaten violence or harm, publish the name of debtors, use profanity or make repeated calls to annoy someone.
¿ Debt collectors are not permitted to lie in an attempt to get you to pay up. They can't, for instance, say you have committed a crime or claim that they work for the government or for a credit reporting agency.
¿ Report problems with debt collectors to your state's attorney general's office (in California: oag.ca.gov/contact/select_comment_form) and to the FTC (www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov). If you feel your rights have been violated, you can sue a collector in state or federal court, but be sure to file within one year of the date of the violation.