It’s hard enough to be in heavy debt. But if you’ve fallen behind and creditors or debt collection agencies are calling you at home or work, your stress levels could be at an all-time high.

You might feel confused, angry, or even guilty about these calls. But have you ever considered that your creditors might be using unfair debt collection practices? Most people don’t realize that there are limits to what a debt collector can do and say when they’re trying to collect a debt. That’s why it’s so important to know the facts about unfair debt collection practices, so that you can protect yourself against them.

1. Not All Calls Are Legitimate

When a creditor or collection agency calls, have them identify themselves and give you the specifics on the debt they are trying to collect. Knowing the name of the person contacting you, their company’s name, and debt amount can help you determine if the call is legitimate. If they contact the wrong person or misrepresent the amount you owe, they could be using unfair debt collection practices.

2. There’s a Difference Between a Creditor and a Collection Agency

If you don’t recognize the name of the company contacting you, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are calling the wrong person. Once an account has been delinquent for a certain amount of time, most creditors will either send your debt to a collection agency or sell it to them for a fraction of what you owe. This process is called a charge off.

Once your debt has been charged off, collection agencies try to make a profit from your debt by getting you to pay the same amount as before. To do this, they may use more aggressive debt collection tactics on the phone to pressure you into paying. Even though it’s not illegal for debt collectors to call you, there are certain things they cannot do when they call.

3. Debt Collectors Aren’t Allowed to Use Unfair Collection Tactics

Under the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA), it’s illegal for debt collectors to:

Contact you at unreasonable hours
Debt collectors can call, text, or send you letters—but they can’t contact you at unreasonable times, like before 8AM or after 9PM, unless you agree to it.

Harass or threaten you
Debt collector cannot threaten to harm you, use obscene or profane language, or repeatedly use the phone to annoy you.

Make false statements or misrepresent themselves in any way
It’s illegal for a debt collector to make false claims about you or themselves when they are trying to collect a debt. For example, a debt collector may not claim that they are an attorney or government representative, claim that you committed a crime, or misrepresent the amount you owe.

Threaten to seize, garnish, or sell your property or wages if you don’t pay
A debt collector cannot threaten to seize or garnish your wages unless they take you to court and get a court order to garnish your wages, or intend to take you to court in order to do so.

To learn more about what a debt collector can and cannot do, the Federal Trade Commission has more information about the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act here.

4. Debt Collectors Who Don’t Follow the Law Could Be Held Responsible

If you think a debt collector could be violating the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, contact an attorney to see if you have any legal recourse. You have rights as a debtor, and there are legal consequences for creditors and collection agencies who violate those rights.

5. Many Debt Collectors Will Settle Your Debt

Debt collection calls are stressful—even if the debt collector is just doing their job. And the truth is that debt collectors won’t stop contacting you until you pay them.

But did you know that there are ways to get debt collectors to settle for less than you owe? If you simply cannot afford to pay your debt, you may be able to negotiate with creditors to lower your interest rate, change the terms of your payments, or even settle the debt for less.

After calling a debt collector, explaining your situation to them, negotiating new terms, and getting them to sign a contract accepting the new terms, debt collectors could stop calling—as long as you pay the new amount on time each month.

Getting a debt collector to agree to new terms and accept less money than you owe can be difficult. And even if you do, you could be missing out on savings that could help you overcome debt faster. That’s why people in heavy debt turn to professional debt settlement companies like Freedom Debt Relief. After enrolling in our program, our Debt Negotiation Experts work with creditors on your behalf to get them to accept less than you owe so you can be debt-free. In fact, our clients could tackle their debt in as little as 24-48 months.*

Learn more about how our debt settlement program helps people get out of debt faster and for less here.

*Clients who make all their monthly program deposits pay approximately 50% of their enrolled balance before fees, or 68% to 75% including fees, over 24 to 48 months. Not all clients are able to complete our program for various reasons, including their ability to save sufficient funds. Our estimates are based on prior results, which will vary depending on your specific circumstances. We do not guarantee that your debts will be resolved for a specific amount or percentage or within a specific period of time.