U.S. News & World Report
When consumers find themselves being contacted by debt collectors, the most important thing they can do is be aware of their rights. Collectors cannot take money out of a debtor's paycheck without a legal settlement in court, nor can they threaten consumers or use insulting or demeaning language. Consumers can take five steps to gain control of the situation.
First, they should document every contact by a collector, whether by phone or by mail. They also should make a copy of any letters or materials sent. This gives the consumer a stronger case if he or she is sued by a collector.
Second, consumers should get a validation notice. When contacting a debtor, a collector must send a validation notice within five days that explains how much is owed and to whom. Consumers can request another copy if necessary.
Third, consumers should ensure that they actually owe the debts in question, as debts may be created in cases of identity theft. Consumers should check their credit reports, which should include some evidence of the debts. Individuals can create an identity theft report by filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. That report should be copied to the debt collector, with a letter clearly stating that the debtor is a victim of identity theft.
Fourth, consumers can stop harassment with a certified letter sent to the collector. The letter must clearly state that the sender wishes for the collector to cease contact. Bill collectors can still contact a debtor in the case of legal action regarding the debt, such as filing a lawsuit.
Fifth, debtors should try to negotiate a deal. They may be able to get a “discount” on the debt owed, or negotiate to pay a smaller amount if the debt can be paid in full. This should be done in writing, with copies kept for records, including those of checks written.