These consumer protection laws can protect you from bullying or disreputable debt collectors.

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Just as there are many reputable collection agencies and billing departments, there are also bill collectors out there that skirt the law, misrepresent your debt or use harassment to collect.

Fortunately, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is a federal law that restricts what debt collectors are allowed to do when trying to collect certain types of debt. That’s why you need to know your rights as a consumer when it comes to unfair debt collection practices.

1. Engage in harassment

Bill collectors that call you repeatedly at inconvenient times to “annoy, abuse or harass” you are violating the law. “The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) says debt collectors can’t harass, oppress, or abuse you or anyone else they contact,” according to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Examples of harassment by debt collectors include using profane or obscene language, threatening violence or harm, not identifying who they are when calling to collect a debt. Debt collectors aren’t allowed to call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. or at work without your permission.

Find out: What Counts as Collector Harassment?

2. Misrepresent the debt

The FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from misrepresenting the character, amount or legal status of any  debt. If you think a debt collector is misrepresenting a debt it’s trying to collect, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends reporting the business to your state attorney general, the FTC or the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau.

3. Pretend to be an attorney

If a person attempting to collect a debt falsely claims that he or she is an attorney, that’s against the law. The same goes for a debt collection agency or other entity that represents or implies that any communication is from an attorney.

Find out: Can a Debt Collector Contact My Employer?

4. Threaten actions that can’t be legally taken

Some bill collectors may try to scare you by falsely claiming they can have you arrested or imprisoned. Or they may threaten to garnish your wages or seize property.

It’s true that a debt collector may be able to garnish your wages, but first it must obtain a court order to take money from your paycheck. A debt collector must also get a court order to take money from your bank account or seize unsecured property that isn’t claimed as collateral.

Find out: Can I Sue a Debt Collector for Harassment?

5. Try to collect a time-barred debt

According to the FDCPA, debt collectors can’t collect on debts that extend beyond the state statute of limitations. The length of a debt’s statute of limitations varies by the state (or the state specified in your credit contract) and type of debt.

Always check whether an old debt someone is trying to collect is still legally collectable. Never make a payment or acknowledge the debt in writing until you know it’s within the statute of limitations, since in some states, those actions can start the statute of limitations on the debt again.

6. Mention your debt to a third party without permission

If a debt collection agency calls your boss, your cousin, or your three ex-wives without your consent to collect a debt, it’s breaking the law.

Generally, unless you give a debt collector permission to talk to someone other than yourself or your attorney, the debt collector can only communicate about your debt with the creditor, the creditor’s attorney or a consumer reporting agency.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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