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Posted: 6:00 a.m. Friday, Oct. 11, 2013

Threatened with legal action? Could be a scammer

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By Clark Howard

ClarkHoward.com


Debt collectors are falsely claiming to represent law firms and threatening you with legal action and even jail time if you don't pay.

A debt collection firm in Glendale, Calif., has been fined for sending unlawful text messages to alleged debtors. But that's not all. They're also doing another big no-no: Calling and telling friends, relatives, and employers about the debt you allegedly owe.

Let me say this right now: The majority of debt collectors follow the law and do an unpleasant job well. I know because I paid my way through school as a bill collector. It's hard and thankless work. But it's a necessary part of how the free market works. If you don't pay your bills, someone will attempt to collect from you and that is their right.

Within that right, however, there are rules: You can't harass someone, threaten them, cuss at them, threaten to harm them, have them arrested, or put them in jail. So the next time you're threatened with legal action, remember that it could be a scammer and keep these pointers in mind:

 

  • Always record any calls from/to a collector.
  • If a debt you legitimately owe is outside the statute of limitations, you are not required to pay up. However, you should honor your obligations when you're financially able to do so.
  • You have the right to tell a collector never to contact you again. Use a drop dead letter and send it via certified mail. You can still, however, be sued against the debt even after sending this letter.
  • If you legitimately owe money and wish to make a deal to pay, never give a collector your checking account number over the phone. Collectors routinely take more money than they say they'll take.
  • Never pay one cent until you have an agreement in writing stating your payment(s) will resolve a legitimate debt in full.
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