One thing I often find myself saying to clients is, “Don’t throw away anything!”, particularly if they are being pursued by a debt collector or collection attorney. Although people being sent threatening letters likely have little interest in reading them, those letters constitute some of the core evidence that can be used against collectors in court. Moreover, in certain instances where a debtor has failed to properly respond to a complaint, their mail may include notice of a default being entered against them, along with information on how they may stop the default from being converted into a default judgment (which, at the district court level, can be very difficult to set aside). Nobody likes to receive bad news in the mail, but that “bad news” may be crucial in determining if a client’s rights under state and federal law have been violated.
If you believe you are being unfairly or improperly pursued for a debt, your first course of action should be to save everything that may be relevant to the collection action. This means you should not only gather together any paperwork you may personally have regarding the debt, but keep every single piece of correspondence – paper or electronic – that is dispatched to you during the course of the collection. Should the collector attempt to use unsavory means of contacting you through, say, social media, family, or friends, record every incident. In other words, make a record and try to have as much tangible proof as you can to support it.
When it comes to collection phone calls, again, be vigilant. Tell every collector that is calling you that you want them to stop and that you revoking your consent to be called. If your cellular phone allows for it, record the call where you revoke your consent and save it. It may also behoove you to send a letter, via certified mail, to the collector informing them in writing not to call you any further. If they continue to do so, keep records; collection agencies and their attorneys will often use multiple telephone numbers when trying to get ahold of you. Take note of each one that has called. This may give you a strong basis for claims against the collector under state and federal laws such as the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.
Finally, don’t panic. Fear and intimidation are the tools of the trade for debt collectors. They will use every trick under and beyond the law to get you to pay your debt or admit to owing debt which, legally speaking, you may not. There is no need to get combative with them. However, never be afraid to assert or rights and let them know that you are keeping track of all of their activities. And if push comes to shove, find a consumer protection/debtor defense attorney who can further help protect you. Many such attorneys offer free consultations and if you have valid claims under the law, they may take your case on a contingency basis rather than demanding payment upfront.
Never forget that there are always options available. No one should have to suffer mental, emotional, and physical fatigue from being pursued by debt collectors and collection attorneys. It is the responsibility of those pursuing the debt to prove that you lawfully owe the money and, if they should seek a judicial remedy, to demonstrate in court that you owe what they claim you owe. I never encourage anyone to attempt to defend against a collection action in court on their own. Seek representation. You may think help is not available, but I assure you it is.