The Federal Trade Commission says that debt collectors make one billion contacts with consumers every year.
Most of those are phone calls that aggravate, harass and sometimes intimidate consumers, who wonder: How can I make this phone stop ringing?
“Pick it up and say to the person on the other end of the line: Stop calling me!” said Ira Rheingold, an attorney and the executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA).
“But before you hang up, get their name and address, then sit down and write a letter telling them not to call you. Send it by certified mail, return receipt requested so you have a record of this if it keeps going.
“Knowing the debt collection industry, it probably will.”
Debt collection is a $13.7 billion a year industry. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), one in three consumers – more than 70 million people – were contacted by a creditor or debt collector in the past year. The CFPB says that 250,000 debt collection complaints have been filed since 2011, about 88,000 of them in 2016 alone.
Rheingold chuckles at those numbers. The NACA is an organization of more than 1,700 attorneys who represent consumers in disputes with businesses and the biggest source of complaints deals with debt collectors.
“Most of the complaints are from consumers who are being harassed for debt they don’t owe,” said Rheingold, who made a one-hour appearance on CSPAN to discuss problems with debt collectors. “In a lot of cases, the wrong person is being harassed or even sued for the wrong amount of debt and the collection agencies are using very limited information to bring those cases.”
Debt Dispute Letter
If you doubt that you owe a debt, or that the amount owed is not accurate, your best recourse is to send a debt dispute letter to the collection agency asking that the debt be validated.
A debt dispute letter demands that the collection agency demonstrate that you do indeed owe the debt and can provide detailed information and documents to prove the amount owed.
Federal law says that after receiving written notice of a debt, consumers have a 30-day window to respond with a debt dispute letter.
The debt dispute letter should include your personal identifying information; verification of the amount of debt owed; the name of the creditor for the debt; and a request that the debt not be reported to credit reporting agencies until the matter is resolved or have it removed from the report, if it already has been reported.
A second dispute letter should be sent to the credit reporting agencies with much the same information, so they too are aware that the debt is in dispute.
Often, however, the matter is not resolved until the information already has appeared on your credit report and thus become a negative factor that on your credit score. If it does make it on to your credit report, yet another form of dispute letter should be sent to the credit reporting agency, disputing the accuracy of the information and asking that it be removed or corrected.