Things Debt Collectors Can't Do

Seattle P-I has a good article about what debt collectors can and can’t do. For instance, they can’t:

• Call or write to you more than three times a week. Only one of those calls can be at your workplace. They cannot call you between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m.

• Harass, intimidate, embarrass or threaten you, or lie or use unfair practices to collect a debt.

• Garnish wages or take your home or possessions without a court judgment, except in the case of federally guaranteed student loans in default.

If a debt collector does any of these to you, contact your Attorney General’s office. In certain cases, you may also be able to take them to court and win punitive fines. — BEN POPKEN

What to do if the debt collector calls [SeattlePI] (Thanks to Cherise!)


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  1. dwightschrute says:

    can they call you more than three times a week if you don’t answer? Or is it 3 answered calls per week?

  2. clementine says:

    What can you do about debt collectors who call for other people to your line repeatedly? For approximately seven years, I have been getting phone calls for other people at my home – people who I have never even heard of but who have the same last name as I do. I listed my name in the telephone book a C Lastnamehere. Now I get repeated phone calls for John Lastnamehere, Diana Lastnamehere, Ashley Lastnamehere, etc. I keep telling them that the person does not live with me, I do not know who that person is, they have the wrong phone number, etc. and they keep pestering me until the first name changes to something else on another phone call. I tell them that I live in a one bedroom, 500 square foot apartment and that I am sure that I am the only one that lives here and some of them ask me if I am absolutely certain that I live alone, etc. What can I do to stop debt collectors calls when I am debt free and they are trying to reach someone else with a common last name? I have asked to be on a do not call list and told them to take my name/number off of their records all to no avail.

  3. SOhp101 says:

    There’s a lot of things that debt collectors cannot do. If you’re being harassed by debt collectors, tell them explicitly over the phone to never call ever again and to make all correspondence over mail.

    Make sure you always send all correspondence certified in case if it goes to court.

    It is their responsibility to PROVE that the debt is actually yours, otherwise you don’t have to pay it. Once you start getting letters/phone calls, ask for proof.

    Also, if you’re being harassed by a debt collector you can negotiate how much you can actually pay for the debt. Often times you can settle for 30-70% of the original debt, YMMV.

    Make sure if you do settle with a debt collector, get it in writing that they will remove any derogatory credit remarks on your credit report. Get them to agree to it first before sending them any check.

    Also, make sure you pay with a cashier’s check and not a personal/business one. Remember, they are collecting a debt and they can use ANY information available to them to collect it, and using a personal check makes it that much easier for them to take money out of your account after they get the court on their side. Usually this results in a nasty surprise with lots of overdraft fees, etc.

    There’s also other small tidbits that you can use against them, for example if the debt is regarding a medical matter, they are definitely not allowed to know what your medical condition is otherwise it violates privacy laws and this can usually make the debt invalid. In some states they are not even allowed to state that the debt is of medical nature.

    If you can prove that you’ve been illegally harassed by a debt collector or they have used illegal means to obtain information on you, you can get your debt thrown out in court.

    Well that’s all I can think of off the top of my head. There’s tons of other things that debt collectors have to go through in order to get money from you, but most consumers don’t realize their rights and don’t exercise them. Yes, oftem times it is a valid debt and they have legitimate reasons in collecting the debt, but it’s job where they will play dirty to get your money.

  4. golgiapparatus says:

    /shudder When I was in high school, these people used to call NON-STOP for my mother and my grandfather. One time when they called for my grandfather I told them he wasn’t there because, uh, Christ, are we HONESTLY supposed to give the phone to him like three times a day over that? Hell no. When I said that the guy just goes “Where is he?” And I said “…I don’t know.” And he just SCREAMS at me “WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T KNOW YOU LIVE WITH HIM!?” So, yeah, I hung up. It was kinda scary though.

  5. golgiapparatus says:


    Ooh, I used to get calls like that when I first got my current cell phone number. Except, they didn’t have the same last name as me. And there were like, four different people they’d call for. They eventually stopped, though.

  6. eightfifteen says:

    Also, if you tell them that you cannot receive phone calls at work, they MUST stop calling you there.

  7. kimsama says:

    @SOhp101: Wow, that was thorough!

    IANAL, but I would add: be careful about the liens and garnishments. It’s very true that they can’t be placed without a judgment being filed against you. However, many people get themselves into trouble by ignoring lawsuits filed against them the way they ignore debt collectors. Sadly, if you don’t file an answer to the lawsuit, the judge will usually file a default judgment against you, even if you have mitigating circumstances that would have gotten you off the hook if you hadn’t ignored the order to appear. In most states, this allows creditors to place liens and/or garnish your wages.

    And usually what happens then is that the person with the debt will come to court because of the lien, and try to argue with the judge that the debt is bad/old/they don’t owe it, etc. Unfortunately, since there was a judgment, they can no longer argue that they don’t owe the debt.

    So please be very careful, and pay attention to legal notices. But feel free to ignore the debt collectors!

  8. shay1208 says:

    I have gotten calls from a debt collector for my neighbor. They were asking for me to put on his door. I was not home at the time of the call so it was a voice mail. Is it legal for them to contact neighbors?

  9. nweaver says:

    What I want to know is how to deal with the stupid RoboCalls they use. There is no “ElenaG-Delacruz” at this number, but I keep getting crap for “ElenaG-Delacurz”.

  10. UnStatusTheQuo says:


    I doubt it. However, you could offer your service for a small fee of $500 per “posting,” which I imagine will end the calls to you pretty quickly.

  11. Mary_Beth says:

    It’s usually better to complain about debt collectors to the Federal Trade Commission rather than the Attorney General. Unless the collector is a local company or at least in the same state…debt collectors are regulated by the FTC.

    And if one of them is calling your number, looking for someone you don’t know, try to get their company name or address and send them a certified letter informing them that they are not to contact you again. That usually works better than telling them on the phone.

  12. velocipenguin says:


    When I first got a cell phone, I received several calls a week from a collections agency demanding payment for a $500 debt to Circuit City in someone else’s name. The calls continued for several months despite my repeated explanations that I was 16 years old, had never shopped at Circuit City, and didn’t have a name even remotely similar to the name of the debtor. After a while, I decided to try telling them I was the debtor and that I had no idea what they were talking about; much to my surprise, the calls immediately stopped. I don’t know if this is likely to be effective (or even legal) in other cases, but it worked for this particular debt collector.

  13. automatic_blue says:


    They can call and leave messages or call you and receive no response as many times as they’d like – it doesn’t count as a “call” until they’ve spoken with a real, live human being.

    General advice for anyone, if you get contacted by a debt collector, don’t pay them one damn dime. Consumer attorneys can help you out if you end up getting sued by the collector, and the fees you will pay to get the suit dismissed will be much less than whatever artifically-inflated amount you are being sued for.

    If you’re getting called in any way, shape or form by a debt collector, fax (with transmission verification) or send them certified mail, return receipt requested, a cease and desist letter. If they contact you again after that (except once by mail, to let you know they’ve gotten it) it’s an automatic FDCPA violation and it’s time to lawyer up.

    If you decide to negotiate with a debt collector (WHY?), do everything IN WRITING, and never authorize a direct payment or give them any of your banking information. They will take more.

    I’m sure this section will soon be flooded with people who are talking about some kind of moral obligation to pay back debts or some other such shame-baiting – but the fact is these guys don’t follow the law. They get away with it because people don’t know their rights or don’t stand on them.

    Fight back, and keep them honest.

  14. So if they can’t call me before 8, is that based on their time zone or mine? Because I have def. received phone calls at/before 6am PST (TZ I live in) for people who don’t/have never had my number…(not thrilled about that either, btw)

  15. kerry says:

    I’ve been trying to tell the collectors that have been calling my number for the last 6 years that, no, Wilton Bennet and what’s-her-name don’t live here, please stop calling. Sometimes they say they’ll take me off the list, once they said they didn’t have my number in their database, and another time I got yelled at. To hell with all of them.

  16. Buran says:

    @clementine: Get their name and who they work for, and then tell them you will be suing for harassment. You have asked them to stop, they have not. Contact a lawyer or go the small-claims route.

  17. nightbird says:

    I’m curious how this works in regards to student loans. I know *some* rules are different.

  18. Greganda says:


    According to the 2006 National Consumer Law Center Guide to Surviving Debt, if you default on your student loans the government has the power to seize your tax refunds, deny you new student loans or grants, garnish a percentage of your wages without a court order, take a portion of your Social Security benefits, and charge you very large collection fees. Additionally, there is no time limit for collection on student loans. The government can keep trying to collect 20 or even 30 years after default. [paraphrasing from p. 329]

    Note the exceptions here where student loan collection differs from collection laws for other types of debts – seizures and garnishments can be made WITHOUT a court order and usually judgement-proof income sources (i.e., public benefits) can be garnished.

    Student loan collection is no joke. Especially after Fannie Mae went and aquired 600 of the top debt collection agencies in the country to work exclusively on student loan debt. Gotta love that vertical integration.

    Question that others may know that I’m actually not clear on: do these same collection rules also apply for non-subsidized private student loans, e.g, the one I would get on my own from Citibank?

  19. emax4 says:

    What about CitiBank/CitiCard? I have an old Sears account that I can no longer pay on since I’m unemployed. I’ve told them this but they can’t do anything. I was also lied to by being told I could do a settlement, but when I had the money to make the account current, then paid it, then called them a little bit later to do the settlement when I had $2000, a manager said that it couldn’t be done.

    They call me from two different places every 2 1/2 – 3 hours. I just never bother picking up the phone anymore since they won’t listen to me. Can I sue? I hate to use for a contact but this post seems like my only help. Reply to or here.

  20. dietsamscola says:

    I used to work as a collector. I’m not sure if the rules are different since we were the lender owed money (as opposed to some 3rd party debt collection company) but we called delinquent customers every day, at home and work, whether they answered or not. It was actually pretty lame since the calls were automatic, so sometimes I’d have to talk to a guy for the 4th day in a row and have the same conversation, even though I knew he won’t pay.

    Believe me, threatening to sue will do you no good, and will only fall on the deaf ears of the poorly paid employee who hears it all day long.

  21. emax4 says:

    That makes sense. It’s better to just sue then rather than threatening to sue.

  22. kansasgirl says:

    @Buran, getting their name is a nice idea, but I tried that with debt collectors who harassed me – they were all named “Mr. Smith” and “Mr. Jones” and their managers never cared about my complaints. I suspect most collection agencies operate the same way. The only thing I found that works is hiring a bankruptcy attorney.

    I had several collection agencies calling me after I was laid off and could only find a much lower paying job. The collection agency for MBNA was the worst. When I got laid off, I called MBNA, explained my situation and said I couldn’t keep up the minimum payments. They refused to make arrangements, insisted on the minimum payments and sent me to collection. Their collection agency called daily. They called me on my cell phone, they called me at work, they told me they were going to sue me and send someone over to my office to serve me with papers. I can’t tell you how many days I sat in my office at my new low-paying job with the door closed, crying as I pleaded with the collection agent not to send their representatives to my office. I told them I didn’t think they could call me at work. They didn’t care. They kept calling.

    Eventually they wore me down. Not to pay them – I didn’t have the money – but to retain a bankruptcy attorney so they’d stop calling. I never did file bankruptcy, but the $50 retainer was well worth ending the phone calls. After all the harassment and grief, once I said I’d retained a bankruptcy attorney, I never heard from them again. I never did file for bankruptcy either. A year after I’d retained the attorney, I called the collection company and settled with them for half my initial debt. I had to cash out part of an IRA – because I still didn’t have the money to pay the debt – but it was worth it to be debt-free. I’m thankful I had the IRA to dip into. I couldn’t even afford to file for bankruptcy (the cheapest deal I could find was $1200).

  23. Mr. Gunn says:

    If you want them to stop calling, send ’em a Debt Validation Letter. In it, you tell them that all correspondence must be in writing. If they contact you by any means other than in writing subsequent to that you can collect damages in court.

    Don’t ever call them, and don’t ever speak to them on the phone.

  24. automatic_blue says:

    @ nightbird

    With regard to student loans, the rules still apply. However, the collectors who are collection on FEDERALLY-BACKED student loans do have a lot more leeway, and can go after your income tax return and in general can do a lot more. Soo… the language in the FDCPA that makes it illegal for a debt collector to threaten to do something that they cannot legally do, or do not actually plan to do is weakened.

    They still have to follow the FDCPA, but because student loan collectors are given so much power, they generally don’t have to break the law to make threats, because what they can legally do is pretty powerful.

  25. @clementine: “What can you do about debt collectors who call for other people to your line repeatedly?”

    In addition to debt validations letters and whatnot, you can threaten them with your lawyer or you can report them to the state Attorney General. There’s some lady in town who gives out our phone number to all her debt collectors and to her kid’s truancy officer. We’re on excellent speaking terms with all of them at this point.

    @shay1208: “Is it legal for them to contact neighbors?” WAY NOT. They’re not even allowed to put “collection services” or something like that on the envelope they mail you.

  26. catnapped says:

    I’ve been getting nuisance debt collectors calls for months (must be whoever had the phone number before me). Apparently NCO is above the law as they have called before 6am…wonder if I can sue and make some money even if I have nothing to do with it?

  27. automatic_blue says:


    Don’t threaten to sue. Just sue.

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  29. SecureLocation says:

    Things I can do to a debt collector: find him and add decorative elements to his head with a cresent wrench.

  30. thrillhouse says:

    @shay1208: @Eyebrows McGee:
    “Is it legal for them to contact neighbors?”


    … but they can tell you very little about the situation. I don’t even think they can say that it is to collect a debt. But, they can say that this is So and So and I’m trying to get a hold of your neighbor, Mr. Smith. Can you have him call me at 555-555-5000? That little stunt, while legal, is a great tactic for them to achieve their goal – evoke strong emotion from the debtor.

  31. jrandyw says:

    I worked as at SallieMae many years ago (1995). So, the laws may have changed since then, and my comments only apply to federaly guaranteed student loans. First, the fact that the loans are guaranteed makes a huge different for SallieMae. The truth is, they don’t really care if you pay. They rather you pay, because that’s the cheapest way for them to get their money. But really, they just want to make sure they perform their due diligence so that if you ever default, the feds will pay the loan off. So, their computers are setup to make sure they make the required due diligence (I believe it was 1 succesful contact or three attempts when I was there) and NO MORE. I do know that when I was there we could call on holidays and on Sundays. Though some states don’t allow you to do that, those laws didn’t apply because the federal law on the matter overruled it. While I was at SallieMae the name of the game was just to follow the law as closely as possible because if the borrower ever defaulted, the company would still get paid. That’s not to say SallieMae was perfect, far from it. Humans are humans.

    On a side note, if you have a student loan and are behind on your payments, call and see if there is anything that can be done to eliminate your deliquency. While it may end up increasing your total debt, it will be much better than harming your credit. And for goodness sake, do EVERYTHING you can to avoid default. The guarantors hire collectors that can be vicious and have the law on their side. And if you do default, you might be able to “rehab” your loan. It will cost you lots and lots of money, but it will wipe your credit report clean.

  32. mingram15 says:

    I have an old credit card bill from the 1990’s. I was recently taken to court. I agreed that I do owe money, and the just instructed me to call. I made a call to the collection agency today, and was told that the law offices are preparing to file suit, and that they will garnish my wages or put a lien on my property. The bill is for $2,100 including court costs. He said he would need $500. to show the law offices that I am seroius about paying the debt. He also said he couldn’t wait until my payday(I just got a new job)two weeks from now. He also asked about my income taxes. I am rather confused and I feel I am being punished for trying to do the right thing. I need some advice.

    Thank you,

  33. LooseHeatSink says:

    So, I have to comment on the “not allowed to do” list provided by Seattle P-I. The rules definitely vary from state to state. Other states allow a call every day, or multiple calls if the debtor agrees – like, “Hey, I’m at work and can’t talk, call me tonight at home”.

    I was a Collections Manager for a number of years (eons ago) and was very familiar with the different laws in the different states. The job sucked bad, but no one that I worked with was out to give someone a hard time.

    As far as “make them prove you owe it”, it’s really not that hard. All it takes is for them to pull your original application and signature. Done.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m pro consumer, and there were lots of bad/evil collectors, but clearly the best defense is to be sure you can afford the product/services you are putting on credit.

    On the other hand, if you are in debt way over your head, the best thing that you can do is contact a non-profit Credit Counseling service. They will assist you in getting a grip on your finances and debts.

  34. medic78 says:

    @nightbird: My fiance collects on defaulted student loans. They still follow most of the same rules, however it is much easier for them to garnish you wages and take your IRS refund. Student loans can’t be discharged in bankruptcy and will never go away. If you get calls from student loan collectors, deal with them. They will find some way to work it out with you, with small payments or even a settlement for a one-time payment that is much smaller than what is owed.

    They really do follow the rules about contacting though. They aren’t allowed to discuss anything about the debt with anyone but the debtor or spouse. They don’t call late at night, etc. If they do call your work, chances are that they are trying to verify your employment so that they can garnish you, so I’d contact them first.

    The difference between what my fiance does and what Sallie Mae (and others) do is simple. Once Sallie Mae gives up on getting your money, they get paid back by the government. The government then contracts with companies like my fiance’s who then start collections of their own. At this point, like I said before, it’s pay up, or be garnished.