When the Debt Collector Lies

September 1st, 2011, by

Q: How do I get help paying a bill? I caught the creditor in a lie on my credit report. I need help with this problem. I never disputed the debt; I disputed the amount.

Salt Lake City, Utah

A: You may have some protections under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which prohibit debt collectors from using abusive, unfair or deceptive practices to collect from you. 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.

Debt collectors may not lie when they are trying to collect a debt. Specifically, they can’t misrepresent the amount you owe.

At this point, send the debt collector a letter disputing the amount they say you owe. FDCPA says you have to do this within 30 days of the debt collector’s initial contact with you. It’s unclear whether your 30-day window has passed, but send the letter anyway.

After the debt collector receives your dispute letter, he/she must provide you with written proof of the debt. As soon as you let a debt collector know that you dispute a debt, the collector must report the debt as “in dispute” to the credit bureaus with which he/she works.

You have the right to sue a collector in a state or federal court within one year from the date the law was violated, according to the Federal Trade Commission, which enforces FDCPA. If you win, the judge can require the collector to pay you for any damages you can prove you suffered because of the illegal collection practices, like lost wages and medical bills. The judge can require the debt collector to pay you up to $1,000, even if you can’t prove that you suffered actual damages. You also can be reimbursed for your attorney’s fees and court costs.

Report any problems you have with a debt collector to your state attorney general’s office and the Federal Trade Commission. Many states have their own debt collection laws that are different from the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Your attorney general’s office can help you determine your rights under your state’s law.

The FTC can’t go after the debt collector on the basis of your complaint alone, but if the agency receives enough complaints about debt collectors working for the same company, it will sue the company. Your complaint can help the FTC build its legal case.

You can file your complaint online at the FTC’s Web site.

Last modified: September 1, 2011 at 11:19 am