Everybody dreads calls from collection agencies, but there are certain guidelines collection agencies must follow in dealing with debtors and there are certain things consumers can do to protect themselves from the harassment some collection agencies employ.
First of all, let’s understand why collection agencies do what they do. They have been hired by creditors to get payment as quickly as possible from debtors. For their efforts, they get a fee or commission from the company whose debt they’re collecting. As such, the best way to get collection agencies out of your hair is to pay off your debts as quickly as possible.
Collection agents are allowed to contact you in order to make you aware of the debts you owe and are allowed to use reasonable means to collect. They don’t have to explain your rights to you, and if you’re ignorant to those rights they may overstep the boundaries within which they are required to operate.
Collection agents are required to send a physical letter explaining who they are, who they represent and the debt they are attempting to collect. Six days later, they are allowed to contact you in person or by phone. After making contact with you (in person by email or through a voice mail — a physical letter is not considered contact) an agent must limit contact with you to three or fewer times in any seven day period, without your consent.
The glitch is that if you don’t answer the phone and if they don’t leave voice messages, it doesn’t count as contact. In that case, you could have the same number ring up to several times a day as often as they want.
And they can’t contact your family members, relatives, neighbours or friends except to ascertain your address and phone number. And, they can’t contact your employer except one time to get your employment information. The exception in all cases is if the other person has guaranteed your debt, in which case they are subject to the same collection contact protocols, or if you have given the agent permission to contact them.
Collection agents are also not allowed to use threatening, profane, intimidating or coercive language, to put undue, excessive or unreasonable pressure on you to pay off your debt, harass you about your debt and obligations, or to give out false or misleading information about you to others.
If you feel a collection agent has acted inappropriately, send off a letter (by registered mail so you know they’ve received it by signing for it) explaining in detail what you feel the transgressions were and how you expect the agent to comply with the law (in Ontario, according to the Collection and Debt Settlement Services Act). You can also file a complaint with the Ministry of Consumer Services.
Another thing to keep in mind is that there are several websites that recommend how you deal with collection agents, but some of them are obviously created by people who have had bad experiences with agents. As with all things, be informed but get your information from credible sources, such as federal and provincial consumer agencies.