If bill collectors are harassing you or you can’t seem to get any peace because of debt collectors, it’s time you learned about your legal rights in order to fight back. There are 10 major areas within the Fair Debt Collections Practice Act that are designed to safeguard your rights. Some knowledge about these rights will arm you with virtually everything you need to know in order to end any illegal debt collection practices you might be enduring.

The bottom line is that just because you owe money, that doesn’t give debt collection firms the right to treat you unfairly. Here are the 10 safeguards for consumers.

1. How Creditors Track You Down

This area of the law is formally called “Acquisition of Location Information.” It basically limits what debt-collectors can legally do to find you. For instance, debt collectors:

  • Can’t tell third parties, such as your boss or neighbors, that they’re trying to reach you about a debt
  • Shall only say to others that they’re trying to confirm or correct your location (and not mention your debt)
  • Must not communicate with anyone else (like your supervisor) more than once, unless the debt collector believes the location information given was erroneous or incomplete
  • Are not supposed to mail you anything via postcard, either at home or at your place of employment
  • Can’t use any kind of mailing, envelope, or other communication that would let someone else know that the company is a debt collection agency
  • Are prohibited from contacting you once you notify them in writing that you are represented by an attorney and give them the attorney’s name/address

2. The Way Debt Collectors Communicate about You

This area of the law prevents collection agencies from hounding you or trying to embarrass you by telling others your personal business. The law states that debt collectors:

  • Can’t communicate with you before 8 a.m., or after 9 p.m. (your local time) unless you give them permission or they have a court order to do so
  • Can’t contact you if you’ve notified them that a lawyer is representing you
  • Can’t call you on the job if you tell them that your employer prohibits you from receiving such calls
  • Can’t talk about your situation with anyone; not your friends, relatives, neighbors or co-workers. The only ones they can discuss your debts with are your attorney, the original creditor and credit reporting agencies

3. Prohibitions Against Harassment or Abuse

No debt collector is legally allowed to harass, abuse or oppress you—under any circumstances whatsoever. Any of the following tactics are violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act:

  • The use of violence, or the threat of it, or any criminal action that would hurt a person’s body, property or reputation
  • Obscene or profane language (oral or written)
  • Publishing any lists (except to a credit bureau) that show consumers who refused to pay a debt
  • Threatening or actually posting the debt for sale to another party in order to compel repayment
  • Constantly calling an individual on the telephone or engaging a consumer in repeated conversations with the intention to annoy, abuse or harass someone

4. False or Misleading Representations

Collection agencies are prohibited from making false or misleading representations to consumers in the course of trying to secure debt repayment. Some violations of the law in this area include:

  • Falsely stating or implying that the debt collector is bonded by, or associated with, any federal or state government entity
  • Falsely representing the nature of any debt, the amount owed, the legal status of the account, or compensation paid to the collection agency for recovering the debt
  • Falsely claiming that the debt collector is an attorney or represents an attorney
  • Falsely asserting that you will be imprisoned or arrested if you don’t pay your bills (debtors’ prisons don’t exist anymore in this country)
  • Falsely representing that your failure to pay could result in your wages being garnished, your property being seized, or your assets being sold—unless such measures are lawful, and unless the debt collector actually intends to take those actions
  • Falsely stating such misinformation as the documents they send to you represent a legal process or that the debt collector works for a credit bureau

5. Unfair Practices

No debt collector can use dishonest or unfair means of making you pay your debts. The following actions are deemed to be violations of the law:

  • Collecting any money at all—such as interest, late fees or charges other than the principal amount—unless it is specifically permitted by law and/or authorized by the agreement that created the debt
  • Taking post-dated checks from you that are more than five days away, unless the debt collector informs you no more than 10 or fewer than three business days before depositing the check
  • Soliciting postdated checks for the purpose of threatening or instituting criminal prosecution
  • Depositing or threatening to deposit any postdated check before the date of such check
  • Making collect calls to consumers, or doing anything that would cause debtors to incur charges for communication by debt collectors who are trying to conceal the purpose of their contact

6. Validation of Debts

As a consumer, you have the right to verify, validate or dispute any debt you are told about, within a given time frame. Within five days of initially contacting you, a debt collection agency must:

  • Send you a written notice containing the amount of the debt, the name of the credit, a statement informing you of your right to dispute it within 30 days, and a statement indicating that if you contest any portion of the debt, the debt collector will obtain verification of the debt and mail it to you
  • Supply you with the name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor (if you ask for this information in writing)
  • Cease collection attempts during the “verification of debt” period, if you dispute the debt or ask for the name and address of the original creditor

7. Multiple Debts

The law protects your repayment rights when you owe multiple debts to creditors. In this case, debt collectors:

  • May not apply any payments you make to any debt that you dispute
  • Must follow your instructions about how you want debts repaid (i.e., which debt should be paid first on your outstanding balances)

8. Legal Action By Debt Collectors

Federal law limits where debt collectors can bring legal proceedings against consumers who owe money. In general, any debt collector initiating legal action shall:

  • Bring legal action against real property only in a judicial district or similar legal entity where the property is located
  • Barring the above provision, debt collectors can bring action in the judicial district where the consumer signed the contract or where he/she currently lives

9. Furnishing Certain Deceptive Forms

Debt collection agencies are prohibited from supplying you with misleading or deceptive forms in a bid to make you pay your debts. The Fair Debt Collections Reporting Act states that it is unlawful for:

  • Debt collectors to design, compile or furnish any form knowing that such a form would create a false belief or a false impression that anyone other than the debt collection agency is participating in the collection activity (for example, debt collectors can’t falsely claim lawyers or government agencies are involved)

10. Civil Liability

When debt collectors break the law, they can be sued for failing to abide by federal rules, and forced to pay:

  • The actual damages sustained
  • Additional damages up to $1,000 (for an individual); the lesser of $500,000 or 1% of the debt collector’s net worth (in the case of a class action lawsuit)

If you believe a debt collection firm has violated any of these laws in dealing with you, report the company at once to your state Attorney General’s office and the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov or 877-FTC-HELP.

As a consumer, you have to stand up for yourself when dealing with debt collectors. Yes, you may owe money, but that doesn’t give them the right to harass or treat you unfairly.