JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

At some point many people have had that dreaded call from a debt collector. Sometimes they call really early or late at night. But do you do have rights when it comes to these collectors.

Davis Johnston, seniorice president of operations for 121 Financial Credit Union, is a specialist in collections. With so many people having issues with debt. Johnston says if you’re behind in paying your bills, or a creditor’s records mistakenly make it appear that you are, a debt collector may be contacting you.

"The Federal Trade Commission," Johnston says, "The nation’s consumer protection agency, enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect from you."
Johnston says the Act covers personal, family, and household debts, including money you owe on a personal credit card account, an auto loan, a medical bill, and your mortgage. But he says the FDCPA doesn’t cover debts you incurred to run a business.

Johnston says the Act also regulates when and where a collector can contact you.

"A debt collector may not contact you at inconvenient times or places," Johnston says. "Such as before 8 in the morning or after 9 at night, unless you agree to it. And collectors may not contact you at work if they’re told orally or in writing that you’re not allowed to get calls there."

Johnston says if a collector contacts you about a debt, you may want to talk to them at least once to see if you can resolve the matter even if you don’t think you owe the debt, can’t repay it immediately, or think that the collector is contacting you by mistake. But if you decide after contacting the debt collector that you don’t want the collector to contact you again, Johnston says you have to tell the collector in writing to stop contacting you.

"Make a copy of your letter," Johnston says. "Send the original by certified mail, and pay for a “return receipt” so you’ll be able to document what the collector received. Once the collector receives your letter, they may not contact you again."

There are two exceptions though, Johnston says.

"A collector can contact you to tell you there will be no further contact or to let you know that they or the creditor intend to take a specific action, like filing a lawsuit."
Johnston reminds that sending such a letter to a debt collector that you owe money does not get rid of the debt, but it should stop the contact. The creditor or the debt collector still can sue you to collect the debt.

Johnston says if a collector files a lawsuit against you, respond to the lawsuit, either personally or through your lawyer, by the date specified in the court papers to preserve your rights.

He says under the act collectors cannot harass you; threaten you with violence or harm; publish your name regarding a debt; use obscene or profane language; make false claims about you; threaten you with arrest. Johnston says if you encounter any of these issues you can report any problems to the Florida State Attorney General office at NAAG.org or the Federal Trade Commission’s office at FTC.gov.