Attorney Ed WoodsNobody likes getting a phone call from a debt collector. If you’re being called about a legitimate debt that you know that you owe, your sense of your moral obligation to pay the debt is usually weighing heavily on your mind. After all, if you had the funds, you’d pay the debt and wouldn’t be getting calls in the first place. Add to your sense of moral obligation an unpleasant caller on the other end of the line and you’ve got a great formula for anxiety. Even if you don’t owe the debt or you have a legitimate defense to payment, you still have to worry about what, if anything, you should do. You hang up feeling defeated and despondent. You might be wondering if you will be sued for the debt. Or, maybe you’re worried that your wages or bank accounts might be garnished. How will you handle that?

Let’s focus on how you can effectively handle a debt collection call. We will assume that the debt collection call pertains to a debt that you legitimately owe. The most important point to remember is that you have enforceable legal rights in this situation. Those rights differ depending on exactly who is calling you about the debt. So, is the caller the original creditor with whom you made the debt? Or, is the caller working for a debt collection agency or law firm?

What To Do

When you answer a debt collector’s phone call, you have the right to ask for the caller’s name and it’s best to get the first and last names of the caller. You have the right to ask the caller who they work for. You have the right to refuse to answer any questions the caller may ask you. Make sure you get the complete name of the company or collection firm the caller works for. Make sure you get the caller’s complete telephone number and any extension the caller may have. Be nice and polite and DO NOT treat the caller rudely or get angry. Ask the caller how much they claim is owed by you. Ask how that balance is calculated. Ask the caller where the money should be sent and make sure to get a street address. A good way to ask for this is to ask for their “overnight” address. At the end of the call, ask the caller to stop calling you about the matter.

By taking the above action, you seize control of the call. Even better, you get valuable information on the caller that may become very important later should you need to take legal action against the company calling you.

In Mississippi, you have the right to record the entire call without getting the caller’s permission to do so. You don’t have to tell the caller you are recording the phone call. However, you should NEVER place any recording device on any phone line unless it is your own home phone line or cell phone line. If you’re on someone else’s line, it’s best not to place a recording device on the line. Rather, in such a circumstance, have another adult person pick up an extension and simply listen in on the call. Or, if you’re on a cell phone, place the call on speaker and let another responsible adult listen to the entire call from start to finish. You don’t have to tell the caller you are doing this. This way, you’ll have a reliable witness to what was said during the call. Having a reliable witness to the entire call could make the difference between winning and losing your case if you wind up in court later.

Remember that, if you do record the phone call, you will need to keep a copy of that recording for possible use later in court. There are several recording devices you could use for this task. An answering machine that has a call recording feature is a good choice. Just make sure you have a way to preserve the recording and be able to make a duplicate copy of it later. This may be accomplished with a micro cassette tape or a digital voice recorder. The best digital voice recorders will allow you to make digital recordings and then transfer the recordings to your computer. Make sure that you record the entire conversation between you and the caller. If you edit or try to edit the recording, you probably won’t be able to use it in court. You will also need to make sure to note the date and exact time of day of the call. There are also many paid and free apps available for your mobile phone to aid in recording phone calls.

If you don’t or can’t make a recording of the call, make sure that you write down the date and the exact time of day the call started along with all the information you got during the call about the identity of the caller and the company they work for. Write down a summary of what was said and the demeanor of the caller. For example, was the caller rude? Abusive? Did the caller make any threats towards you? What threats were made? How did you respond? Make sure you write all of this down immediately after you conclude the call. Then date and sign your summary and put it in a safe place for future reference. Have all witnesses to the call do the same thing. This way, if you end up in court later on, you’ll have a complete record of what was said. It doesn’t take long for memories to fade and for very important details to be forgotten. If you end up in court later on, these details will become extremely important and you will be expected to recall the details months after the fact.

What Not To Do

Don’t admit owing anything. Don’t promise to do anything. Don’t volunteer any information. No matter how rudely the caller might treat you, don’t lose your patience or respond back to the caller in a rude or angry manner. Don’t get into an argument with the caller. Don’t let your minor children have conversations with debt collection callers. Don’t tell a lie to a debt collection caller.

The Identity of the Caller

If the company that is calling you about the debt is the same company that loaned you the money or extended you the credit, your rights against such a company are based largely on state law. These laws vary greatly from state to state. Generally speaking, in such a situation, you might be entitled to sue an abusive caller for monetary damages under the tort law of your state. In egregious cases, the caller might even be criminally liable for a misdemeanor offense such as telephone harassment. Your best bet in this situation is to consult with a competent consumer protection attorney in your state.

If the company calling you is a debt collection company or law firm, you may have a claim under a federal law known as the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The FDCPA applies uniformly to all states and gives you the right to sue for damages and attorney’s fees. Damages awards can be very large in certain types of cases. And the company violating your rights must pay YOUR attorney’s fees and expenses as well as their own. The FDCPA is a powerful consumer protection tool that can protect and compensate you against abusive debt collection callers.

If you are the subject of collection calls, the above steps should help you preserve any claim you may have against improper debt collection efforts. It’s best to promptly consult with a competent consumer protection lawyer in such circumstances to determine the best way to proceed. If you owe debts that you simply cannot afford to pay (or pay on time), you should promptly seek the advice of competent counsel. Our attorneys offer free initial consultations to discuss all of your options with you. There is certainly no need for you or your family to suffer in these circumstances. Contact our offices today for help

Bond & Botes, PC
Written by Bond & Botes, PC

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