Debt collectors calling? Know your rights

By North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper

During the economic downturn, job loss and other hardships have caused many families to fall behind on their bills. No matter the circumstances, most consumers dread the thought of a debt collector calling to ask about an unpaid debt or overdue bill.

The NC Attorney General’s office hears from hundreds of consumers each year about how they were treated by a collection agency or how frequently they were contacted about a debt. Complaints about debt collectors ranked fifth among all consumer complaints my office received last year.

Once you fall behind on a debt, your creditor may turn your account over to a debt collector. It’s your responsibility to pay what you owe on time, but debt collectors must follow rules that protect you from abusive practices. In North Carolina, these laws apply to creditors collecting their own debts as well as third party debt collectors.

Debt collectors may not:

* Harass you, use profanity, or threaten you with violence.
* Tell you that you will be arrested if you don’t pay your debts.
* Pretend to be attorneys or government representatives.
* Tell your employer or others about your debts.
* Pretend that they are contacting you for reasons other than to collect a debt.
* Contact you before 8 AM or after 9 PM unless you agree.

Debt collectors are allowed to contact you:

* In person, or by mail, telephone, or fax.
* At home, between the hours of 8 AM and 9 PM.
* At work, unless they have a telephone number to reach you during non-working hours. Debt collectors must stop calling you at work if they know that your employer disapproves of the calls.
* Through people who know you, if they’re unable to find you. When a collection agency contacts people you know, they are not allowed to say why they are trying to contact you or how much you owe.

To stop a collection agency from contacting you at home or at work, put your request in writing. Send a letter by certified mail telling the debt collector to cease phone contact with you both at your home and your job. Be sure to keep a copy of the letter for your records. Once they get your letter, they may not contact you again except to tell you that a creditor intends to take some specific action on your account.

If a debt collector starts calling about a debt that isn’t yours, it could mean that the debt collector has the wrong information or that someone has stolen your identity and used it to open accounts in your name. If the debt isn’t yours, inform the debt collector immediately and ask for proof that you owe the debt. Also, check your credit report regularly to make sure that you haven’t become a victim of identity theft. You can get a free copy of your credit report by calling 1-877-322-8228 or visiting

For more help and advice about identity theft, or to file a complaint about a debt collector who refuses to follow the rules, contact the North Carolina Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll-free in North Carolina or online at