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How to tell if a debt collector is legitimate

September 27, 2013|By David Lazarus

It seemed like a serious phone call. Coco said her husband was informed that he owed the state more than $800 and that he risked time in jail if he didn't pony up some cash.

Finally giving in to the hard sell, Coco's husband agreed to pay $300 to buy himself some breathing room. It wasn't until after he hung up that he and his wife wondered, "Was that a legitimate call?"

It's a common scam: A caller who sounds official makes a strong case for money being owed and severe consequences if you don't offer at least a little something.

ASK LAZ: Smart answers to consumer questions

You should always view such calls warily. Also, remember that you have rights.

Under federal law, a debt collector is required to document a financial obligation in writing. That's why you always want to make such a request.

If the collector refuses to comply, hang up. This is no one you want to be talking to.

For more, check out today's Ask Laz video.

If you have a consumer question, email me at or contact me via Twitter @Davidlaz.

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