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How can I verify whether or not a debt collector is legitimate?


Debt collectors are agents, often lawyers, hired by creditors to help them collect money owed to them, or else they belong to firms that buy the debt of many creditors, often for well below face value, and then keep any payments they receive on it. Debt collectors are licensed only in certain states, so determining whether one is legitimate – I assume you mean that the collector represents the creditor that he or she claims to – but if someone contacts you about a specific debt that you know you have incurred, there is a good chance that the collector is the real deal.

Even though collectors themselves are lightly regulated in many places, the act of collecting debts is tightly controlled. The Federal Debt Collection Practices Act limits the lengths to which collectors can go to separate you from your money, even on debts that you are legally liable for. They can discuss the debt with credit reporting agencies, your spouse or your lawyer, but not with other third parties; they must stop contacting you after you ask them to, and they are required to send you a “validation notice” within five days of the first contact. The notice must include how much you owe, to whom, and what steps you can take if you don’t think you owe it. Also, debt collectors can’t lie to you, make threats or use profane or abusive language. But remember: Whatever federal or state restrictions are placed on debt collection activities, you can be sued and face other unpleasant consequences if you don’t pay money that you owe.

-Conrad de Aenlle