The rights of debtors and the responsibilities of debt collectors are spelled out in the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The law was passed in 1978 and substantially modified in 2006 when bankruptcy laws were rewritten.
Among the rules:
* Collectors may only make collection calls between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. local time. They must stop calling if the debtor informs them in writing that they do not want any more calls. Collectors may not contact debtors at work if they are informed in writing that the employer prohibits such calls. This will not make the debt go away if it is actually owed.
* Collectors may not tell third parties other than an attorney representing the debtor that they are attempting to collect a debt or the amount owed. They may contact family members or other third parties in an attempt to locate a debtor.
* Collectors may not threaten debtors with arrest, claim they intend to garnish wages or seize assets unless they actually plan to do so, nor may they give false information to credit reporting agencies.
Federal Trade Commission: Full information about federal debt laws at www.ftc.gov. Click on Consumer Protection.
U.S. Financial Literacy and Education Commission: Information about all kinds of financial matters at www.mymoney.gov.
Private help: Debt Collector Problems is a website that has links to federal and state debtor-creditor laws and links to attorneys that handle debtor issues at www.debtcollectorproblems.com.