As much as we don’t want to believe that it could ever happen to us, the reality is that things like the loss of a job, a major illness and a divorce can come out of nowhere. Aside from rocking us to the core, these types of events can also serve to jeopardize our financial footing. Indeed, things may get so bad that we start receiving unwanted, unrelenting and unfriendly communication from debt collectors.

The good news, as we’ve discussed in prior posts, is that people on the receiving end of this type of communication from debt collectors have rights and options under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission.

Stopping communication from debt collectors

Once a debt collector informs you that they are attempting to collect on an outstanding balance, you have the right to get them to stop under the FDCPA.

Specifically, the law dictates that you may send the debt collector a letter informing them that you do not want them contacting you again. Upon accepting this letter — the FTC recommends paying for “return receipt” — the debt collector is legally obligated to stop all contact.

There are, however, three exceptions:

  1. They will send you a written “validation notice” within five days of the initial contact indicating how much money is owed, the identity of the party to whom payment is owed and the steps to take if you don’t believe you owe the money.
  2. They may contact you to inform you that all communications will cease henceforth.
  3. They may contact you to inform you of impending actions it plans on taking, such as filing a lawsuit

Stopping communication from debt collectors if I believe they are mistaken as to the amount owed

If you suspect that some mistake has been made by a debt collector and become certain after receiving the aforementioned validation notice, you may take similar action.

Specifically, you will have 30 days after receiving the validation notice to mail a letter to the debt collector either asking for all contact to stop or requesting written verification of the debt (i.e., a copy of a bill or invoice).

While the debt collector will have to stop all communication if that is what you want, it should be noted that contact may continue if only written verification is requested.

Stopping debt collectors from speaking with others

As far as communication with third parties is concerned, if you have retained the services of an attorney, any and all communication must go through them.

If the services of an attorney have not been retained, the FDCPA dictates that debt collectors may contact third parties — only once — to try to secure such basic information as your address, home phone and work location. They may not, however, discuss your actual debt with any of these third parties.  

We will conclude our examination of the FDCPA in our next bankruptcy post, exploring whether wage garnishment may be undertaken by debt collectors.