Your rights when dealing with debt collectors

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A leading debt-collecting agency has been fined for a pattern of unlawful attempts to collect on old debts.

Asset Acceptance agreed to a $2.5 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission. The firm had been trying to con people into making partial payments against expired debts.  In some states, paying even as little as $1 will automatically revalidate a debt that was otherwise past the statute of limitations.

Meanwhile, Maryland has new rules that will require debt collectors to provide proof of a debt, a document signed by you, a statement showing what you owe, plus itemized accounting. In other words, collectors in the Middle Atlantic state will be required go to court with real true proof of the debt they’re trying to collect!

While there are many honest, decent collectors in the field, there are also a lot of rogue collectors who simply look for someone of same or similar name to the person they believe owes money. They may try to harass or threaten that person into paying. Some people will pay simply because they’re so frightened and intimidated — even if they don’t owe the debt!

If you legitimately owe a debt, you have specific rights under federal law. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind when dealing with collectors:

  • Always record any calls from/to a collector.
  • If your debt is outside the statute of limitations, you are not required to pay up. However, you should honor your obligations when you’re financially able to do so.
  • You have the right to tell a collector never to contact you again. Use a drop dead letter and send it via certified mail. You can still, however, be sued against the debt even after sending this letter.
  • If you legitimately owe money and wish to make a deal to pay, never give a collector your checking account number over the phone. Collectors routinely take more money than they say they’ll take.
  • Never pay one cent until you have an agreement in writing stating your payment(s) will resolve the debt in full.
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