What Debt Collectors Can And Cannot Do


Don't expect any compassion from debt collectors. Heather Wagner told me about a conversation she had with a collector who wanted every last penny that was in her bank account. "Either I starve or I pay you, which one is it?" asked Wagner.

After her husband lost his job, the bills kept piling up, so they took out loans and went deeper in debt. Now Wagner is in jeopardy of losing her home because she owes $4,000 in back taxes.

"I have to come up with $1,300 to stop a property tax sale, to stop a sheriff's sale, from selling my house or I will be homeless." (Response from debt collector) 'We don't care.'

"Heather doesn't have the money, so her phone keeps ringing.

"It gets to the point where I disconnect my phone," said Wagner.

If you are behind on your bills, debt collectors will call and they are banking on you not knowing your rights.

"They're hoping that they can call somebody up, threaten them, scare them into making a payment. And these people, because they owe debt, feel that they have absolutely no rights," said Attorney Jeff Suher, who specializes in debt collection and harassment.

The law prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair or deceptive practices, but Suher told me he has run into debt collectors who break the law, sometimes even threatening to have someone arrested.

"They can't expect that calling somebody a deadbeat is going to result in a payment, but I think it's just out of frustration," said Suher.

Debt collectors can contact you seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. but there are some restrictions.

If you're at work you can tell them not to call.

You can also stop the calls by sending them a letter. Just remember, that won't make your debt go away.

"I would advise any time you deal with a collector, put it in writing, send the letter certified mail," said Suher.

If you don't owe the bill, let them know. The law says unless collection agencies have proof, they have to stop contacting you.

If you do owe, debt collectors can take you to court, but they cannot have you arrested.

"Nobody, nobody should ever give a debt collector or any stranger over the phone, access to a bank account," said Suher.

He recommends using a prepaid debit card. That way debt collectors cannot drain your account.

As for Wagner, she's trying to keep a roof over her head. The other bills will have to wait.

"Honestly, I'm scared. I'm honestly scared," said Wagner.

If a debt collector takes you to court and wins, they can have money taken from your bank account or have your wages garnished, but many federal benefits are exempt including, Social Security and veteran's benefits.