What do you do if debt collectors are calling, even when you don’t owe money? There are ways you can turn the tables on aggressive debt collectors.

Debt collectors have earned a reputation for being ruthless. They call, send messages and sometimes use illegal tactics to get you to pay. However, debt collection businesses must abide by federal laws designed to protect you.

Has this happened to you? The caller says he has a warrant for your daughter’s arrest over an unpaid debt he’s trying to collect, or maybe a text lights up your cellphone: “YOUR PAYMENT DECLINED, CALL IMMEDIATELY.”

Both messages are sneaky, illegal scare tactics that debt collectors may use in their attempts to squeeze cash from you, even if you don’t owe anyone any money.

You have certain rights.  A federal law called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act details practices that are off limits for debt collectors. They can’t lie about the amount you owe, use foul language, or make threats of violence. They can’t call repeatedly to annoy you, and they can’t call you at work if you’ve told them orally, or in writing, that your employer doesn’t allow you to get such calls in the workplace.

Other things debt collectors can’t do include publishing a list of people with outstanding debts. They can’t falsely or lie to you claiming to be a lawyer, or someone who works for a government agency as a means of harassing, threatening or deceiving you. Also, debt collectors can’t falsely a claim that you have committed a crime or will be arrested.

Here’s what they are supposed to do. Debt collectors must send you what’s known as a “validation notice” in writing within five days of first contacting you. That notice must include the amount of money you owe, the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money and how you should proceed if you don’t think you owe the money.

How do stop debt collection harassment? If you are contacted, you should tell them you want everything in writing. Do not give them any personal information over the phone. To keep collectors at bay, tell them you don’t want to be contacted by phone. Additionally, write a letter, or have a lawyer write a letter for you, saying that you don’t want to be contacted.

Documentation is key to fighting abuse, especially if you decide you want a lawyer to help you fight. So if you send a letter, for example, keep a copy for yourself and get a return receipt to prove the collector got the letter. 

If the company is abusive on the phone, log the time of every call, the person you spoke to, and what he or she said. Again, keep good records.