Oftentimes I get phone calls from someone who has suddenly found themselves pursued by a debt collector. Thankfully, no one has yet told me that their cats have been seized, (Russian debt collectors can take cats to ensure payment), but collectors still use other dramatic means.

There are several ways that people typically discover there is a collection action of some sort taking place. Probably the most intimidating of these is a call from a debt collector.

Can I just leave debt behind?

Sometimes collection calls are the past catching up, but sometimes it’s just a scam.

If you get a call from a debt collector, the first action that you should take is to demand that they send you something in writing stating all of the information they have about the account. The debt collector may:

  • Decline to send you anything in writing;
  • Tell you that the sheriff or process server is on his way to your employer to serve you in a lawsuit;
  • Try to get you to make an immediate payment over the phone.

These are all strong indications that there is a scam occurring. You should simply keep insisting that they send you something in writing. However they threaten you, do not give them money that day. Insist that they send you a letter.

If you do get a written notice from them, you still need to investigate them to see if they are a legitimate operation that actually does have the right to collect this debt. Send them a request for validation of the debt. (Here is a template for a sample dispute and verify letter.) Figure out if this is actually your account and if the amount is correct. Tell them that all future communications should be in writing. Research the company attempting to collect from you. It may actually be someone who just has a P.O. box and has illegally obtained access to your credit report in order to attempt to scam you.

At any point in the process, you can (and should) contact an attorney. An attorney can discover if this is a scam artist or if a legitimate collector has violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. After an attorney reviews your situation, then you should start to work on resolving the matter with the debt collector.

In my next post, we’ll talk about what to do when you find out that you’ve been sued.

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