Fair Debt Collection

If you use credit cards, owe money on a personal loan, or are paying on a home mortgage,
you are a "debtor." If you fall behind in repaying your creditors, or an error is made on your
accounts, you may be contacted by a "debt collector."

When owing a legitimate bill that is overdue, a debtor should immediately try to make
arrangements with the company owed. If arrangements are unsuccessful or the amount
owed is still not paid, collection agencies will usually be called upon to contact the debtor.
Most of these agencies are ethical in their practices. However, some use practices that
are unethical as well as illegal.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires that debt collectors treat you fairly by
prohibiting certain methods of debt collection. Much of the law places limits on the
activities of debt collectors, which are defined as any person, other than the creditor, who
regularly collects debts owed to others. For instance, it can be an attorney who regularly
collects debts or a company that pursues debt collection as a business practice.

Debt collectors may contact you in person, through the mail, or by telephone, telegram, or
fax. However, they may not contact you at unreasonable times or places, such as before 8
a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you agree. A debt collector also may not contact you at work if
the collector knows that your employer disapproves.

You can stop a debt collector from contacting you by writing a letter to the collection agency
telling it to stop. After that, the agency may only contact you to say there will be no further
contact or to notify you that some specific action will be taken.

Certain types of collection practices are expressly prohibited. Harassment, threats of
bodily harm, or the advertisement of your debt is prohibited. Debt collectors may not make
false statements about your credit history or lie about what action they can legally take
against you.

Often collection agencies obtain a group of overdue accounts from a creditor. If the agency
collects what is owed, they receive a percentage of the payment in return for their services.
If the collection agency collects a percentage of what is paid, the original creditor still owns
the account and the collection agency has no right to sue the debtor. Some unscrupulous
collectors will threaten to take a debtor to court when actually they do not have the legal
right and have no intention to do so. Actually, all the collection agency can do in this
situation is to put a derogatory entry into a debtor's credit report, which may follow the debtor for years. This kind of scare tactic frequently works but is
illegal.

You have the right to sue a debt collector in state or federal court if you believe the law was
violated.

The North Dakota Department of Financial Institutions must license all debt collectors. You
can file a complaint against a debt collector by contacting the Department of Financial
Institutions at 701­328­9933.

The Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division investigates allegations of fraud in
the marketplace. Investigators also mediate individual complaints against businesses.
If you have a consumer problem or question, call the Consumer Protection Division at
328­3404, toll­free at 1­800­472­2600, or 1­800­366­6888 (w/TTY). This article and other
consumer information is located on our website at www.ag.state.nd.us.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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