Even in the best of times, millions of Americans struggle with debt. Perhaps needless to say, the past couple years have not been the best of times. Many of us are struggling more than ever.
While North Carolina and the federal government have offered some help in the form of relief checks, child tax credits and a moratorium on foreclosures, these programs have started to expire. As a result, many people in North Carolina are facing mounting debt.
But what do you do if a debt collector demands you pay a debt that you don’t recognize, or that you think is inflated?
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
State and federal laws protect consumers against abusive debt collectors. One of the most important of these is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Among many other protections, the FDCPA defends consumers from fraudulent or false debt collection practices.
If a debt collector contacts you about a debt that you don’t recognize, or that you think is false, you have options. First, you must identify as much as you can about the debt collector’s claims.
What to do
Debts can be confusing because sometimes a debt collection agency is a separate entity from the original lender, and sometimes a new business takes over another business’ old debts. Under the FDCPA, debt collectors must disclose the amount of the debt, the name of the current creditor, and a way to identify the original creditor.
If you don’t recognize the debt the collector is asking about, ask them to provide the information. If you still don’t recognize the debt or its amount, or if you think you have been misidentified as the debtor, send the collector a dispute letter within 30 days. The collector must then provide you with documentation of the debt, such as your original bill. The collector is legally barred from any more enforcement against you unless or until it can provide you with this documentation.
If the collector harasses you, uses threatening or abusive language or otherwise violates the FDCPA, they are breaking the law. You can report them to the Federal Trade Commission.
Debt is scary enough without debt collectors harassing you. If you are struggling with debt and/or debt collectors, an experienced lawyer can advise you of your rights.