Back in March, I wrote about the immediate steps you should take if you are facing overwhelming debt. Today, let’s look at some immediate steps to take if you are receiving harassing debt collection phone calls. When you are struggling with money problems, the last thing you want to deal with is harassing phone calls by debt collectors. You’re already stressed about not being able to pay the debt (assuming that you do actually owe it) and finding yourself on the end of a nasty debt collection phone call just magnifies the stress. But what can you do about these calls?
First, Talk to a Lawyer
If you are receiving collection calls pertaining to multiple debts and you aren’t likely to be able to resolve or pay the debts in the reasonably foreseeable future, it’s probably time to make an appointment with a lawyer. In these situations, you may need to seriously consider filing a bankruptcy case to stop the calls. Sometimes, though, you may only have one debt that is creating all of the problems and calls. In this situation, you may be able to get the calls stopped by affirmatively dealing with it.
Option 1: Ignore the Calls
One option is to ignore the call. This is the option you may have been using recently. The upside is that it’s easy and you avoid a potentially nasty encounter with a debt collector. The downside is that utilizing this option does absolutely nothing to resolve the matter. In the end, ignoring the matter will very likely lead to unpleasant consequences for you such, as debt collection lawsuits, garnishments, and other unpleasant side effects. Unless you are being counseled by a competent lawyer as part of a specific legal strategy, this is likely not the best approach.
Option 2: Learn About the Debt and Collector
In my view, the better option is usually to answer the call and use it as an opportunity to learn as much as you can about the debt you owe (or are accused of owing) and who is collecting on it. You do not have to answer any questions the debt collector has of you and you can take this opportunity to ask the collector questions.
- How much do they claim is owed?
- For what do you owe the money?
- Is the caller the original creditor with whom you did business in the past (assuming the claimed debt is legitimate)?
- Or is the caller a debt collection agency or law firm seeking to collect someone else’s debt?
- What documents does the caller have to back up their claim?
In answering these calls, you should be very diligent to note the date and the time the call was received. If you have caller ID, make a note of the number that appears on your ID. Ask the caller for his or her name, the name of his or her employer, and complete addresses and telephone numbers. It is a good idea to have another responsible adult to listen in on the conversation so that this person can testify if necessary about what happened during the call. Make a note about what was said during the call and the demeanor of the person who called you. ALWAYS keep your cool and treat the caller courteously and in the same manner you would want to be treated. Don’t become angry, shout, use demeaning language or profanity with the caller no matter how nasty they are to you.
You might be tempted to surreptitiously record the call. Be EXTREMELY careful with this practice. There is no uniform rule about when such taping is permissible and when it is not. The best practice is to avoid any such taping until you’ve had a chance to consult with a reputable and knowledgeable attorney in your area to check your local laws on the subject.
You Have Rights Too
You have the right to be treated fairly and with dignity and respect in the debt collection process. You are entitled to truthful information in the debt collection process. If the caller is a debt collection agency or law firm that has been hired to collect on debts owed to another, you can sue that agency or law firm if they treat you unfairly, untruthfully, rudely or disrespectfully. You benefit in bringing such suits by being entitled to $1,000.00 in statutory damages plus your provable actual damages. Your lawyer is essentially free because the other side has to pay his or her fees and costs.
So, the bottom line is that you don’t have to be permanently afraid of your telephone ringing. If you are getting debt collection phone calls, the best practice is to deal with the issue and try to get it resolved. This may mean hiring a reputable consumer protection lawyer to represent you. It may mean that you need to sue the debt collector. Or, it may be an opportunity to get the matter resolved yourself. In any event, life will get better for you and you can be comfortable answering your phone again!
Ed Woods is the Managing Attorney of several of the Bond & Botes Law Offices throughout Mississippi. He holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Southern Mississippi, and a Juris Doctorate from Mississippi College School of Law. Ed puts his extensive knowledge of bankruptcy law to use defending consumers from debt collection lawsuits and more. Read his full bio here.