You just received a telephone call from a debt collector. The debt collector was mean and nasty and threatening and you don't know what to do. First, relax.
Then wait. The debt collector has five days (from the initial communication) to send you a letter with this information:
(1) the amount of the debt;
(2) the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed;
(3) a statement that unless the consumer, within thirty days after receipt of the notice, disputes the validity of the debt, or any portion thereof, the debt will be assumed to be valid by the debt collector;
(4) a statement that if the consumer notifies the debt collector in writing within the thirty-day period that the debt, or any portion thereof, is disputed, the debt collector will obtain verification of the debt or a copy of a judgment against the consumer and a copy of such verification or judgment will be mailed to the consumer by the debt collector; and
(5) a statement that, upon the consumer's written request within the thirty-day period, the debt collector will provide the consumer with the name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor.
If the debt collector doesn't send you a letter within five days, or the letter doesn't contain this information, that's a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Contact The Law Office of Robert E. Duff!
When you receive the required letter, and you find it contains all the information it is supposed to, your next step is to dispute the debt. This must be done within 30 days of receipt of the letter. You should ALWAYS dispute the debt. Even if you recognize the debt, even if you know you owe it, even if you feel a moral obligation to pay it, you should still dispute the debt. Disputing the debt doesn't mean that you are saying the debt isn't yours. It is simply requiring the debt collector to provide verification to you that the debt is yours. This is information that the debt collector is required to have by law in order to collect the debt, and so it should be very easy for them to provide it to you. Unfortunately, don't expect to receive much. The courts have found that virtually anything they send you constitutes verification of the debt, such as the original creditor, account number and amount of the debt. Sometimes, though, the debt collector will not provide any verification at all, in which case by law they must cease all debt collection efforts.
What does this dispute letter look like? It's very simple. Click here to see a sample letter.
If you've looked up debt collection issues on the web, you've probably seen budhibbs.com. It's a great website. It's got a lot of great information on the sometimes ugly industry of debt collection. I visit it occasionally and receive valuable information there. I have to respectfully disagree, however, when it comes to the content of the dispute letter.
You can see the budhibbs.com "Cease Communication Letter" here.
It is, as he correctly terms it, a cease communication letter under 15 U.S.C. sec. 1692c, not a dispute letter under 15 U.S.C. sec. 1692g. He says it needs to be sent within 30 days from the debt collector's letter, but as I read the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), I disagree. The dispute letter has to be sent within 30 days, but there is no such requirement for the cease communication letter. The cease communication letter can be sent at any time.
The dispute letter puts additional burdens on a debt collector (and verification is a prerequisite to a lawsuit, whereas the cease communication will not prevent the debt collector from filing a lawsuit), and I think it should be sent first. If the debt collector indeed verifies the debt, then there is a place for the cease communication letter at that time. It may result in the debt collector filing a lawsuit against you, but then again it may not. If a debt collector contacts you after you have sent a cease communication letter, other than to tell you they won't contact you again or to tell you they are going to file a lawsuit against you, then they have violated the FDCPA.