ST. LOUIS (KMOV) – With the tough economy, many St. Louisans continue to be under financial stress that could lead to a bill collector calling.
But even if you owe money, you still have rights, and debt collectors must still play by the rules.
Collectors are not allowed to threaten debtors or their reputation. They must also send debtors written proof of their debt.
Sometimes, collectors try to make you pay on a debt that was never owed or already settled; that’s called a zombie debt. Also, collectors may call to withdraw money from your bank account.
According to Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, there are ways to deal with debt collectors that will save you a lot of hassle. News 4’s Jasmine Huda talked with Legal Services today, and learned the following:
Jasmine Huda: It can be unnerving, alarming to get a call from a collector. What is the first thing you should know if you do get a call?
Rob Swearingen: You are protected under Federal Law by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act against harassing and abusive telephone calls.
JH: That's interesting because most people don't know their rights.
RS: No, most people don't…We've actually had people called and told they were going to be arrested, that the sheriff was coming to their house to arrest them. It's amazing how many people in St. Louis have come to my office, and burst into tears when I told them that they are not going to be arrested because you don't go to jail in America for bad debt.
JH: So as a consumer, what are your rights? What should you do? What is the first thing you can do if someone calls you?
RS: You have rights against being harassed and abusive and angry language can't be used on the phone against you...Their job is to make you uncomfortable. They want to make you angry they want to make you uncomfortable.
JH: And often times mission accomplished.
RS: The best way to deal with a debt you don't owe you…way too many people give up...You should go to court and demand proof of that debt.
JH: Are you seeing this as a bigger problem these days?
RS: Oh yes, there's a mountain of credit card debt that has gone into default with the recession-depression, and what we have is a lot of debt that people are trying to collect.
For more information, contact the following resources:
Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois –(314) 645-3300; website
Federal Trade Commission –(877) FTC-HELP (382-4357); website
Illinois Attorney General – (800) 243-0618; website
Missouri Attorney General – (800) 392-8222; website
U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of Missouri – (314) 539-2200; website
U.S. Postal Inspection Service – (877) 876-2455; website
U.S. Secret Service – (314) 539-2238; website