No one likes to receive a call or letter from a debt collector. But if they're calling you, or worse yet, they're calling your family, your neighbors, your employer, here's what you do.
First, understand that you have rights under both state and federal laws.
Second, follow the advice of the Consumer Federal Protection Bureau, and take all of these steps if and when contacted:
1. Don't divulge any information! Again, DON'T DIVULGE ANY INFORMATION! If the caller is legitimate, he/she shouldn't need any additional information from you, including your phone number (they called you, right?), your address, your employer, where you bank, etc. Divulging information will only assist the creditor in suing you, or if they've already done that, in garnishing your wages, your state tax refund or your bank account.
2. Get identifying information from caller, and if he/she refuse(s) to give it to you, hang up! There are many, many scammers out there, just fishing for information! But even the legitimate collectors can be (and usually are) rude and pushy, and we know you might feel a bit guilty. Understand that they're trained to play on that. But also understand that employees of legitimate collection agencies have no problem divulging their own names, along with the name of the agency they work for. Get a mailing address, too, and a return phone number. If they're being rude or pushy, politely tell them that you're not going to respond to their questions unless and until they give you all of this information. DON'T BE INTIMIDATED!
3. Make them tell you what they're calling about. Say, "I'm willing to discuss this with you, but I need some information from you first." Then, demand to know, a) The name of the original creditor; and b) the amount they believe you owe them. REMEMBER, you're in listening mode right now. DON"T DIVULGE INFORMATION!
4. Thank them for their call, but tell them you're not about to make an immediate payment. Tell them you need to check your records first. Then, terminate the call. If you have to, simply hang up.
5. While it's fresh in your mind, make detailed notes about everything that is said. Also, before it gets overwritten, note what is displayed on your caller ID, as well as the date, time and duration of the call.
6. Devise a strategy. If the debt is legitimate, understand that you're likely going to have to deal with it, one way or the other. Worst case, you might be sued. But even in that event, you have options. Understand, too, that you might have defenses, that if not asserted, you might inadvertently and unwittingly lose. For example, making a payment on time-barred debt restarts the running of the statute of limitations. All that being said, if the debt is legitimate, and you have no defenses, a proactive approach is probably best. For example, if you have other debts, and you know that you won't be able to dig out within the next couple of years, then filing for bankruptcy can afford you the fresh start you need. Investigate that option - it might prove to be better for your credit score, and your personal bottom line, in the long run. On the other hand, if this is the the only debt you're concerned with, then perhaps you can work out an affordable payment arrangement with the creditor before they resort to litigation.
Finally, understand that regardless of which route you take, you don't have to suffer the constant collection calls and you can insist that they stop. Let us know if we might be of assistance, whatever your strategy might be.