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For Immediate Release
January 14, 2005
Media Contact:
Kevin Enright 410-576-6357

ATTORNEY GENERAL REMINDS CONSUMERS OF THEIR RIGHTS IN DEBT COLLECTION

Debt collectors have a job to do–but some consumers say they do it with a vengeance. Consumers often complain that collectors are rude and harassing, calling several times a day, calling them at work or embarrassing them by contacting their neighbors. In the latest issue of his consumers’ newsletter The Consumer's Edge, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr. reminds consumers that they have the right not to be harassed by debt collectors.

" Both state and federal laws require debt collectors to follow certain rules," Curran said. "While they have a right to try to collect what's owed, debt collectors cannot harass you, play tricks on you or destroy your privacy."

Debt collectors are allowed to contact debtors in person, by mail, telephone, telegram or fax. However, they may not contact the debtor at unreasonable places or times, such as late at night, or call so often as to constitute harassment. Debt collectors also may not use obscene language; say they will ruin the debtor’s reputation; say the debtor will be arrested; violate the debtor’s privacy by telling others about the debt; or contact the debtor at work if they know his or her employer disapproves of personal calls.

In addition, federal law establishes special requirements for debt collection agencies (as opposed to businesses collecting debts owed by their customers). Within five days after its first contact with the consumer, the collection agency must send a written notice of the amount owed, the name of the business or lender to whom the debt is owed, and what the consumer should do if he believes he does not owe the money. If the consumer disputes the debt or needs more information about it, he should send the collection agency a letter by certified mail within 30 days. The agency may not contact him again until it has sent the proof of the debt or the information requested.

Curran offered these tips on communicating with a debt collector:

  • Don’t avoid contact with the collector. This may cause increased or more aggressive collection efforts. Getting calls from a collector can be stressful, but keep in mind that the collection of a debt is a business transaction, and try not to take it personally.
  • If you owe the debt, but do not have money available to pay it, ask the collector if you can work out a payment plan. If the agency agrees, get the payment plan in writing.
  • If you believe a collector is harassing you, tell the collector that you believe that what he or she is doing is illegal and that you want them to stop. Tell them that you are keeping notes of the times of the calls and the language used, and that you may file a complaint against them.
  • You can ask a collection agency to stop contacting you by sending it a letter. However, the agency can still sue you in court and continue sending negative information to the credit reporting agencies.


If you have a complaint about a collection agency, contact the Maryland Collection Agency Licensing Board, 500 N. Calvert St., Room 402, Baltimore, MD 21202; (410) 230-6079. If you have a complaint about the collection actions of a business that is trying to collect money directly (not using a collection agency), call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at (410) 528-8662.

More tips on consumers’ rights in debt collection can be found in The Consumer’s Edge at www.oag.state.md.us/Consumer/edge117.htm Curran's office distributes The Consumer's Edge through businesses, schools, and community associations. Groups interested in the newsletter should call 410-576-6500.

 

 

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