Explainer: What a debt collector owes you

Frequent readers of our Minnesota Consumer Rights Blog know that one of our goals is to help people know their rights when they hear from a debt collector and to understand the types of information they are owed by the collector.

In far too many cases, consumers are contacted by debt collectors over bills and debts they do not owe. Sometimes the collectors contact people over mistakes made by retailers, blunders by credit card companies or errors by the collector. Regardless of where the failure occurred, you are under no obligation to pay off a debt that is not yours.

The first thing to do in this situation is to send a written notice to the debt collector that you dispute the debt. In your written notice, you can also include a request to the collector to send you more information about the debt.

When they contact you, collectors are required by law to give you crucial information, including:

  • The creditor’s name
  • The amount the collector claims you owe

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says a debt collector must also inform that if you don’t dispute the debt within 30 days, the collector can assume that debt is valid. The collector must also inform you that if you do dispute the debt, the collector will provide debt verification.

The debt collector must also tell you that if you request it within 30 days, the collector will provide you with the name and address of the original creditor – if it’s different from the current creditor.

The debt collector is required to supply all of that information to you during the first contact with you, but if they don’t, they’re required to send it all to you in a written notice within five days of that first contact.

Once you’ve disputed the debt in writing, the collector can’t call you or otherwise contact you to collect the disputed debt until after you’ve been provided written verification of the debt.

It’s a good idea to include the date on your letter and to make a copy of it – and then send it by certified letter. You can also send the letter by fax, being sure to keep the confirmation receipt.

It’s also wise to contact an attorney who knows how to stop abusive debt collection and protect your consumer rights.