CHARLESTON — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is reminding consumers of tips they should remember when dealing with debt and credit collection agencies.
The AG's office said that in 2014, issues with credit cards and collection agencies were among the Top 10 most common complaints received by its Consumer Protection Division.
“This week is National Consumer Protection Week, and our Office wants to remind consumers that they have certain rights when it comes to debt collection,” Morrisey said. “While consumers should always pay the debt they owe, debit and credit collection agencies must play by the rules and treat West Virginia consumers with respect.”
Collection agencies must adhere to the following additional rules as part of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act:
- Calls before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. are prohibited.
- Debt collectors must send a written notice stating the amount of the debt, the creditor to whom the debt is owed, and a statement that the debtor has 30 days to dispute the debt, in writing.
- If the debt collection agency receives a written dispute letter from the consumer within the 30 day period, the debt collector must send verification of the debt to the alleged debtor. The collector may not attempt to collect the alleged debt until that proof is sent.
- Any and all communications, including telephone calls and letters, must immediately stop once a debt collector receives a “cease and desist” letter from you. Cease and desist letters are effective once received by the collection agency. They can be sent by certified mail, return receipt requested to establish a “paper trail.” The “cease and desist” letter has no effect if the collector is the original creditor.
- Debt collectors must state in the initial communication “This is an attempt to collect a debt and any information obtained will be used for that purpose.” In subsequent communications the collector must disclose it is a debt collector. Debt collectors may not use fictitious company names, but rather must use the true company name.
- Once a collector is told an individual is represented by an attorney all conversations, messages, letters or any other communication must immediately stop with the consumer by the collection agency. Under West Virginia law, original creditors, not just collection agencies, also must stop contacting the debtor when it appears the debtor is represented by a lawyer and the lawyer’s name and address is known or could be easily ascertained.
“Our Office hopes that these tips will be helpful in educating consumers and that they will be armed with the knowledge and tools necessary to not fall victim of a scam,” Morrisey said. “The Consumer Protection Division often gets complaints from consumers who are simply trying to pay their debt and get rid of their financial trouble but are having to deal with harassing and high-pressure calls.”
For consumers who already have debt problems, Morrisey reminded them that debt collectors, including original creditors under West Virginia law, may not:
- Contact you repeatedly by phone with the intent to abuse or harass you.
- Use obscene or threatening language with consumers.
- Tell others how much debt you have, either verbally or in writing.
- Contact you at work if you or your employer has told them not to.
- Refuse or fail to identify themselves and for whom they work.
- Threaten to add additional fees, seize property or file criminal charges for failure to pay within a set timeframe.
- Threaten physical harm if you do not pay a debt.
- Contact you if you have a lawyer.
“It is important for citizens to not panic if they receive a suspicious debt or credit collection call,” Morrisey said. “The consumer should get as much information possible from the caller and let us know.”