When a debt collector contacts you the first time, it is usually in the form of a dunning letter (collection letter) or a phone call. Never ignore a debt collector, even if you do not recognize the debt. DCA offers a checklist to help you protect your rights:
Check that the debt collection agency is licensed. Debt collection agencies must include their DCA license number in all letters sent to you. To verify if a debt collection agency is licensed, call 311 (212-NEW-YORK outside NYC) or search DCA’s Instant License Check, available online at nyc.gov/dca.
Check that the debt collection agency provided the required information. By law, debt collection agencies must provide the following information in all communications to you:
- The name of the debt collection agency
- The name of the original creditor
- The amount of the debt
- A call-back number to a phone that a live person answers and the name of that person. If your call is routed from the agency’s main telephone line, the live person qualified to handle your questions must answer the call within 60 seconds.
Ensure the debt collector sends you validation of the debt, especially if the first collection attempt is by phone. Validation must include:
- The name of the original creditor
- The amount of the debt
- Information about your right to dispute the debt
The debt collection agency must send you validation within five days of contacting you.
Always request that the debt collector send you written verification of the original debt even if you recognize the deficit. Verification must include:
- a document from the original creditor that shows you made the
purchase and owe the debt
- a copy of the final account statement from the original creditor AND
a document that lists:
- The principal amount you owe (The principal may be either the actual amount borrowed OR the part of the amount borrowed that remains unpaid minus any charges or fees.)
each additional charge or fee you owe that separately lists:
* The total for each license or payment and the date each was incurred
* description of why you must pay the additional cost or fee
Once you request verification, a debt collection agency may not contact you to collect the debt until it sends you confirmation. Do not be pressured into making any payments until you have received verification of the original debt.
Confirm if you owe the debt. Who is the original creditor? Do you remember buying a product or service from this business? Is the amount of the debt correct? Checking your credit report can help.
Check how old the debt is. If the statute of limitations on the debt is expired, the collector must disclose this information to you, along with information about your legal rights. The law of rules is the period of time that a creditor or collector can sue you in court to collect the debt.
If the statute of limitations expired, by law, the collector must include in the collection letter the following statement in at least 12 point type and color different from other text:
“WE ARE REQUIRED BY LAW TO GIVE YOU THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION ABOUT THIS DEBT. The legal time limit (statute of limitations) for suing you to collect this debt has expired. However, if somebody sues you anyway to make you pay this debt, court rules REQUIRE YOU to tell the court that the statute of limitations has expired to prevent the creditor from obtaining a judgment. Even though the statute of limitations has expired, you may CHOOSE to make payments. However, BE AWARE: if you make a payment, the creditor’s right to sue you to make you pay the entire debt may START AGAIN.”
The statute of limitations is generally six years on credit card debt. You may wish to speak with an attorney if you have questions or concerns about the statute of limitations.
If you have hired an attorney, write to the debt collection agency with your attorney’s name and contact information. Once the debt collection agency knows you have an attorney, the agency may not contact you directly but must only deal with your attorney.
Keep a copy—front and back—of every letter you get from or send to the debt collection agency. It would help if you also took notes on any telephone conversations you have with debt collectors, including the date, name of the person you speak to, and details of the call.
Beware of sharing with the debt collection agency information such as your e-mail address or cell phone number—the collector will use it. Also, beware of sharing your Social Security Number.
False Claims and Harassment Are Illegal.
A debt collection agency may not make false statements, including:
- Claim that it represents a government agency, such as a marshal, sheriff, or district attorneys office
- Threaten that you will be arrested
- Threaten that it will report you to immigration authorities
- Claim that you have committed a crime
- Threaten that it will have you evicted, take a garnish your wages, take the money from your bank account, or take your personal belongings without first obtaining a judgment against you in court
A debt collection agency may not:
- Engage in the act of violence, threats of violence, or obscene language
- Claim the debt owned is more significant than it is
- Claim you owe the debt when you do not.
- Claim you can be sued if the statute of limitation expired.
- Call you before 8 AM or after 9 pm or more than twice a week if the collector has contacted you.
- Advertise a debt or reveal it to anyone, including family members and neighbors
- Contact your employer, family, friends, and neighbors for any reason other than to locate you. Collectors cannot discuss the alleged debt with anyone other than you.
If a debt collection agency is unlicensed, fails to give you information required by law, or unlawfully threatens or harasses you, call 311 or visit nyc.gov/dca to file a complaint with DCA. Remember to keep notes of phone calls, including the date, time, and name of the person who called you, and sends DCA all documentation supporting your complaint.
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