Mistakes Consumers Make When Dealing With Collection Agencies

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Dealing with a collection agency can be a stressful experience. Not only are some debt collectors rude, but endless demanding telephone calls and letters can shake even the toughest individual. The stress and confusion that debt collectors can cause often results in consumers making mistakes that can result in future financial or legal difficulties.

Here are 5 mistakes to avoid when dealing with a debt collector;

1. Conducting Business over the Telephone
If you are dealing with a collection agency, you must entertain the possibility that you may end up in court. The collection agency may sue you for the debt or you may decide to sue the collection agency for harassment. Whatever the situation may be, you will not be able to successfully prove your case or defend yourself without proper documentation. The most important rule to remember when dealing with collection agencies is: to refuse to conduct business over the telephone. If you notify a collection agency that all further correspondence must be conducted via mail, it is legally obligated to comply. Your goal should be to get all communication with the collection agency in writing. Not only does this give you proof of any claim the company makes, it also prevents endless annoying telephone calls from debt collectors.

2. Accepting a Computer Printout as a Debt Validation
One of the most basic methods of credit repair is requesting a debt validation from a collection agency. Should the collection agency fail to provide you with a validation, it is required by law to remove any entries it has placed on your credit report. Upon receiving your dispute, many collection agencies will provide you with a printout containing your current account information.

Due to the fact that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act does not clearly stipulate what constitutes a legitimate debt validation, collection agencies are free to use printouts to "prove" that you owe a debt. Even if it has met the basic criteria for a validation, all collection agencies know that printouts rarely hold up in court. Don't accept a computer printout as a legitimate debt validation. Demand that the collection agency provide you with a copy of the original contract that you supposedly signed. In many cases, they can't do so.

3. Providing Personal Information
If you have ever read the fine print of a collection letter, you may have noticed a stipulation that any information you provide to the company will be used to collect the debt from you. Keep in mind that just because a collection agency is attempting to collect one of your old debts, this does not mean that the agency has personal information such as your Social Security number. If you provide this information to the company, even while making an honest effort to help a customer service representative "locate" your account, you are giving the company additional information that it may not already posses. By giving a customer service representative at a collection agency any information about yourself other than your name, you may be helping the company validate your debt or report it to the credit bureaus.

4. Making a Payment on an Old Debt
Although the responsible thing to do is to pay the debts that you owe, paying a collection agency can quickly turn into a nightmare. Every state has a statute of limitations regulating the amount of time a creditor has to collect a debt via a lawsuit. If the statute of limitations for debt collection has expired in your state, you are safe from a lawsuit and the wage garnishment that can result.  Should you submit a payment to the company, however, the statute of limitations will be reset. This can quickly open you up to a lawsuit, wage garnishment, a bank account levy, and even property liens. Even worse, if you submit your payment via a check or an automatic bank draft, the collection agency will have access to your bank accounts. Although it is illegal for a collection agency to empty your bank accounts without first having a court judgment granting it legal permission to do so, that does not mean that the practice does not sometimes occur.

5. Not Getting Agreements in Writing
It can be a relief to finally come to an agreement with a collection agency over a debt. No matter what type of agreement you reach, it is vital that you have a representative of the company place the agreement in writing before you submit any payments. Keep in mind that the turnover rate at collection agencies is often quite high. If a debt collector makes a verbal agreement with you and subsequently leaves the company, he or she may leave no record of the agreement. Should this occur, you will be the one who suffers for it. In addition, getting the result of your negotiations in writing gives you legal recourse should the collection agency fail to hold up its end of the bargain in the future.

Remember, a collection agency's first priority is to collect a debt from you. Some debt collectors will go to great lengths, legal or not, to do just that. Being aware of your rights when dealing with aggressive debt collections and the risks that may arise when not protecting yourself from illegal or deceptive debt collecting practices can lead to dangerous and costly mistakes. Whenever in doubt -check with an experienced consumer attorney.

My friends over at AlabamaConsumerLawBlog have a wealth of information on their site regarding an array of consumer protection matters, including info on creditor harassment .

Read earlier blogs on various consumer lawsuits, and abusive debt collection practices and your rights
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