How to handle a debt collector

Sylvia got class photos at school a while ago. The photo company, rather than asking up front which pictures people wanted, printed a kitchen sink portfolio and sent it home with the kids. The parents were instructed to return any unwanted photos along with payment for the rest.

Jordan dutifully took a few photos out and returned the rest with her credit card information. In theory, that should have been the end of it. (Her credit card was just fine.)

The other night, a debt collector called. They claimed to own the debt. They didn’t know much about it, not even Jordan’s address. So they said they could not send her a bill.

And they wanted her to pay not only the amount owed (which seemed excessive) plus an $8 handling fee for paying over the phone. Jordan asked for an address. The caller provided one with an incomplete zip code, then hunted around for a different address.

Neither Jordan nor I knew how to handle a call from a debt collector. For the record, the law you need to know about is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. In short, if you get a call from someone claiming to be a debt collector, you should:

  1. Not reveal too much information about yourself or any potential debt. In particular, don’t say anything that would confirm or deny any debts. Keep in mind, the caller could be anyone. Plus, they will use any information against you. If it’s a scammer or identity thief, any random information makes it easier to impersonate you.
  2. Request that all communications be in writing. Don’t tell them your address (see above). If you really owe them money, they should have or be willing to find your address.
  3. Tell them to send you a description of the debt in writing.
  4. If they balk, you may politely remind them that failure to comply results in a $1000 fine.
  5. And, of course, do not accept any “convenience charge.”
  6. When you get the statement, which they are required to send within five days no matter what, it shoud say that you have 30 days to pay or contest it. If you don’t respond in time, that is not evidence of debt, but it will complicate matters if you really do owe them.

The relevant section here is on page 5 of the FDCPA.


One thought on “How to handle a debt collector

  1. It sounds like you handled the call well. But rather than think it is resolved, it would be a good idea to call the original photo company and ask them what the current status of your account is. Also, check your bank statement to see if they actually hit your card for the pics. If not, you still owe the money.

    Do all of this first before tossing the rules at the collector. By getting to the root of the problem you’ll get it resolved rather than pushing it away to resurface latter.

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