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Every week, join Whitney Quick as she helps you navigate life as a smart consumer. You'll cover everything in avoiding the latest scams, including phishing emails, medical equipment fraud, understanding layaway, hiring a reputable tax preparer, and even digital spring cleaning. Add to your toolbox and flip through your Consumer Handbook Thursdays during NPR’s Morning Edition at 6:42 a.m. and 8:42 a.m., only on KRCU.

Consumer Handbook: Debt Collection Scams

Senior man checking bills at home
coldsnowstorm/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Wide angle image depicting a senior man's hand holding an energy bill while the other hand checks the numbers on a calculator. The table is strewn with documents and also a laptop. Room for copy space.

With federal regulations changing and debt collectors’ tactics evolving, it’s important to learn what collection agencies legally can and cannot do and to stay vigilant against debt collection scams.

By law, debt collectors can contact consumers by phone, letter, email or text message, as long as they identify themselves as debt collectors. They can contact consumers at work unless specifically told that the consumer is not allowed to receive calls there. They also can contact other people to get contact information about consumers whose debt repayment they are pursuing, but unless they contact your spouse or attorney, the agency cannot contact them more than once or discuss your debt with them.

Collection agencies are prohibited from calling between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m., and they may not engage in harassment, false statements or unfair practices. Under new rules introduced by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau last year, collection agencies are limited to seven phone calls a week to consumers, including attempted calls and conversations. They may make an unlimited number of contacts by text message, email and social media private message; however, they must clearly identify themselves as debt collectors and provide a way to opt out. Notably, debt collection agencies may not pretend to be someone else, like a government agency or credit reporting company, and may not use a false company name.

BBB recommends consumers follow these tips to avoid debt collection scams. Ask the debt collector to provide official "validation notice" of the debt. If you do owe money and aren’t sure if the caller is real, ask for their name, company, street address, and telephone number. If you don’t have any outstanding loans, hang up. Don’t press any numbers or speak to an “agent.” Check your credit report. Report unfair dealings with debt collectors.

Cape Girardeau native Whitney Quick is the Regional Director of Better Business Bureau in Cape Girardeau, MO, and is responsible for outreach efforts in Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois. Quick is a graduate of Cape Girardeau Central High School and Southeast Missouri University where she majored in public relations. Quick enjoys helping educate consumers in the southeast Missouri region by sharing consumer tips with groups and educating them about BBB’s resources.