Beware of Dubious Debt Collectors
By Attorney General Roy Cooper
Most people would rather not get calls from debt collectors. But what do you do if someone keeps hounding you about a debt that you don’t even owe?
Dozens of North Carolinians have recently reported getting threatening calls from scammers posing as debt collectors. The callers often use fake names designed to sound like a law firm or government or law enforcement agency, such as the “Federal State Bureau of North Carolina” to try to intimidate consumers into paying the phony debts.
In other cases, a legitimate collection agency may try to collect on a debt taken out in your name without your permission. This can mean you’ve been the victim of identity theft, when criminals steal your personal information and use it to run up debts in your name.
If you get calls demanding that you pay debts you don’t owe, keep the following tips in mind:
- Never give out your personal information, such as bank account and credit card information, to anyone you don’t know who contacts you.
- Check your credit reports for free at www.annualcreditreport.com or 1-877-322-8228 to spot any unauthorized credit cards or loans issued in your name.
- Consider a free security freeze to block unauthorized use of your credit.
- If you get one of these calls after applying online for a loan or credit card, file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov.
If you think you might owe the debt, but don’t recognize the name of the collection agency or the creditor, request that the debt collector immediately send you written confirmation of the amount of the debt and the name of the original creditor – and don’t give out any personal information until you’re sure the debt is yours.
If you do have unpaid bills, remember that real debt collectors have to follow rules, too. It’s your responsibility to pay what you owe on time, but laws protect you from abusive collection practices. In North Carolina, these laws apply to creditors collecting their own debts as well as third party debt collectors.
Debt collectors may not:
- Harass you, use profanity, or threaten you with violence.
- Tell you that you’ll be arrested if you don’t pay.
- Pretend to be attorneys or government representatives.
- Tell your employer or others about your debts.
- Pretend that they’re contacting you for reasons other than to collect a debt.
- Contact you before 8 AM or after 9 PM, unless you agree.
Debt collectors are allowed to contact you:
- In person, or by mail, telephone, or fax.
- At home, between the hours of 8 AM and 9 PM.
- At work, unless they have a telephone number to reach you during non-working hours. Debt collectors must stop calling you at work if they know that your employer disapproves of the calls.
- Through people who know you, if they’re unable to find you. When a collection agency contacts people you know, they are not allowed to say why they’re trying to contact you or how much you owe.
To stop a collection agency from contacting you at home or at work, send a letter by certified mail telling the debt collector to cease phone contact with you both at your home and your job. Be sure to keep a copy of the letter for your records. Once they get your letter, they may not contact you again except to tell you that a creditor intends to take some specific action on your account.
But sending that letter won’t make your debts disappear. If you’re having trouble paying your bills, contact your creditors as soon as possible to work out a payment plan. You can also work with a credit counseling service to develop a strategy to help you get out of debt. To find an accredited, non-profit credit counselor in your area, contact the National Foundation for Credit Counseling at 1-800-388-2227 or www.nfcc.org.
For more help or to file a complaint about a debt collection scam or a debt collector who refuses to follow the rules, contact my Consumer Protection Division at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll-free in North Carolina or online at www.ncdoj.gov