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What to Do When Contacted by a Debt Collector

Michael Rapp May 6, 2015

For many consumers, receiving a call from a debt collector is among their least favorite things to deal with. Debt collectors seem to have little regard for the time of day or amount of times that they call consumers. Collectors often harass consumers until they answer simply because, well, it’s their job. While most consumers despise any interaction with collection agencies, there are some things to keep in mind when you finally answer their call.

Initial Verification

The very first thing that consumers should do when answering a call from a debt collector is verifying as much information as possible. Unless the representative clearly identifies him or herself, it’s wise for consumers to ask for their name, the company that they are calling from, and basic information about the agency that the collector should now (where it’s located, etc.). Consumers should make sure they are speaking to an actual debt collector and not a scam artist. If consumers are still not sure whether the call is legitimate, ask to speak with a manager to see how he or she responds. If they hang up, it’s a pretty good indication that the call was an attempt to steal your identity.

Once one verifies that the call is, in fact, legitimate, consumers may proceed to cooperate with the collection agency and answer questions that they may have. Conversely, collectors typically will verify the identity of the consumer by asking for their first and last name, date of birth, and last four digits of their social security number. Red flags may be raised if collectors ask for consumers’ entire social security number, as this is not a common practice. Consumers should tell collectors that they are not comfortable providing that information over the phone and ask if their identity can be verified via another method.

Ensuring Details Are Correct

One of the most common problems that arises when dealing with debt collectors is inconsistencies over the type of debt and amount owed. Since consumer debt often changes hands without proper documentation, there are frequent discrepancies over information regarding the debt. If consumers are certain that they owe a lesser amount or have already paid the debt off in full, they should let the collection agency know. If the collector disagrees, starts to become aggressive and uses threatening language, it’s okay to hang up the phone. By law, collectors are not allowed to threaten consumers or intimidate them using hostile language. If this is the case, consumers should contact a consumer protection attorney for further advice.

Avoiding Collectors’ Calls Is Not Always a Best Practice

Unless you are absolutely certain that debt collectors are contacting you unjustifiably, it’s best to answer their calls. If you are knowingly in debt, and do not have the financial means to pay it off, it’s wise to talk to collectors to explore your options, rather than completely ignoring their calls. Explaining to the collector the extent of your financial hardship may open up new doors with regards to paying off your debt. Furthermore, avoiding debt collectors’ calls often causes them to call more often. Answering collectors’ calls, even when you are not in a position to repay the debt can help get them off of your back, to some extent.