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BBB advice: Handling debt collectors

Burnsville – Consumers who owe money or are behind on their bills may legitimately be contacted by debt collectors. However, Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) is reminding consumers that they have rights, and that some calls they receive may not be legitimate. In an effort to help consumers deal with collection firms, BBB offers some guidance.

“Consumers need to be clear on the rules and what debt collectors can and cannot do,” said Susan Adams Loyd, President and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “If the caller is abusive or refuses to reveal the name of their organization, people need to report this type of behavior, to us and other agencies.”

When you’re contacted by a debt collector, BBB recommends that you: Know your rights. Review the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which sets standards for collection agencies and prohibits abusive tactics. The FDCPA is enforced by the FTC and violations should be reported at ftc.gov.

Debt collectors:

  • Cannot threaten you with arrest.
  • Are not allowed to make idle threats, express or implied, or use abusive language.
  • Should not discuss consumers' accounts with unauthorized third parties.

Verify the legitimacy.

Get the debt collector's name as well as the name of their company to research the collection agency further. See if they have a website or a Business Profile at bbb.org. Verify that the company is licensed to do business in your state. In Minnesota, collection agencies have to be licensed by the Minnesota Department of Commerce; in North Dakota, by the Department of Financial Institutions.

Request written proof.

By law, a collection agency must provide a validation notice within five days of contacting you about the debt. Within 30 days of receiving their validation notice, send the debt collector a written request to verify the details of the debt. Do not provide personal or financial information until the validity of the debt and the debt collector has been confirmed. If the debt cannot be verified or if requested documentation isn’t provided, be extremely wary.

Don't ignore the collector.

It is best to respond immediately, even if you don't believe the debt is yours. Otherwise, the collector may continue contacting you or file a judgment against you.

Do not claim a debt that isn't yours.

Making a payment on a bill just to make a debt collector "go away" is a bad idea. Even making just one payment can indicate that you are accepting the full responsibility of the debt. The invalid debt could also reflect as a liability on your credit report.

Contest errors.

If no debt is confirmed, contact any involved parties to clear up possible inaccuracies on your credit report, such as: the debt collector; the creditor or company claiming unresolved accounts; and the major credit bureaus.

Check for identity theft.

If you’re contacted by a collection agency regarding erroneous bills or debts, it could be an indication of identity theft; an imposter may be using your identity to make purchases, open accounts or obtain credit. Review your credit report to identify fraudulent activity. Visit annualcreditreport.com for a free yearly credit report.

Know your responsibilities.

Debt collectors or creditors can contact you regarding unpaid debts. Discuss the possibility of a payment plan.

Stop intrusive collector calls.

According to federal law, a debt collector cannot continue to contact you – at work or home – if you tell them to stop. However, if a debt is owed, the collector or creditor can still take legal action to collect funds.

Report Scams: Debt collection victims can file complaints with the:

Better Business Bureau

Federal Trade Commission

State Attorney General's Office and other local consumer affairs agencies.

American Collectors Association (ACA International) processes complaints on its member debt collectors; find out if the debt collection agency is a member.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

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Better Business Bureau

BBB hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact BBB at bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 800-646-6222.

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