Though it sometimes seems like debt collectors will try anything, even impersonating Ed McMahon, to their money, the law actually puts some pretty strict limits on what these people and companies can and can’t do.
From pretending to be police or attorneys to calling you at all hours of the night to trying to tack on interest you don’t owe, here are nearly two dozen things the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act forbids collectors from doing.
Debt Collectors can NOT:
1. Contact you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you’ve asked them to;
2. Contact you at work once you’ve told them not to;
3. Use threats of violence or harm;
4. Publish a list of names of people who refuse to pay their debts (though this information can be provided to credit bureaus);
5. Use obscene or profane language;
6. Repeatedly use the phone to annoy someone.
7. Falsely claim that they are attorneys or government representatives;
8. Falsely claim that you have committed a crime;
9. Falsely represent that they operate or work for a credit reporting company;
10. Misrepresent the amount you owe;
11. Indicate that papers they send you are legal forms if they aren’t, or indicate that papers they send to you aren’t legal forms if they are.
12. Claim you can be arrested if you don’t pay your debt;
13. Threaten to seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages unless they are permitted by law to take the action and intend to do so; or
14. Threaten legal action in cases where doing so would be illegal or if they don’t intend to take the action.
15. Provide false credit information about you to anyone, including a credit reporting company;
16. Send you anything that looks like an official document from a court or government agency if it isn’t;
17. Use a false company name.
18. Try to collect any interest, fee, or other charge on top of the amount you owe unless the contract that created your debt – or your state law – allows the charge;
19. Deposit a post-dated check early;
20. Take or threaten to take your property unless it can be done legally;
21. Contact you by postcard.
22. Garnish any of the following, even after proving their case against you in a lawsuit:
Social Security Benefits
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits
Civil Service and Federal Retirement and Disability Benefits
Service Members’ Pay
Military Annuities and Survivors’ Benefits
Railroad Retirement Benefits
Merchant Seamen Wages
Longshoremen’s and Harbor Workers’ Death and Disability Benefits
Foreign Service Retirement and Disability Benefits
Compensation for Injury, Death, or Detention of Employees of U.S. Contractors Outside the U.S.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Federal Disaster Assistance
23. Contact you after they have received a letter from you saying you do not wish to be contacted any further about the debt. The collector can still contact you to confirm there will be no further contact or to advise you of additional actions being taken against you, such as lawsuit.