Debt collection calls: what they can and can't ask - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Debt collection calls: what they can and can't ask

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

More and more people are falling behind on their bills.

In fact, approximately 15 million Americans are either considering filing for bankruptcy or are getting calls from debt collectors.

And when it comes to collectors, experts say they're ramping up their methods to make sure you know they want their money!

What can you expect and what are your rights?

For many of us, there's nothing more embarrassing than a call from a debt collector.

But can you imagine how you'd feel if the collector called someone in your family or a neighbor while looking for you?!

"I see this as a growing problem," said Beth Givens of Privacy Rights Clearinghouse

Consumer advocates say lenders are getting more aggressive and that includes making calls to you sooner, and reaching out to third parties.

And don't be surprised if the message isn't only delivered by phone!

"Mail, email, text messages," said Ken Paterson of Credit Advisory Service.

How do collectors get your relatives' and friends' information?

you may list your parents as the contact on a doctor's form or use your best friend as a reference on a credit application.

Then, it's all fair game.

If debt collectors do reach out to relatives, privacy experts say they can't ask them to pay your debt.

"If you are in debt, know that there is a federal law that puts limits on the kinds of communications that debt collectors can have and it pays to really be informed," said Givens.

Collectors can only ask third parties for your location or contact information.

They shouldn't even mention the call is about an unpaid debt.

Relatives and friends are not legally obligated to reveal anything.

And they can tell the collector not to call back and by law, the calls have to stop.

"You do not have to be hounded or harassed," said Givens.

You should also put that request in writing.

But realize the collection process doesn't end and other action may be taken.

"A collection situation is never easy for a consumer to deal with," said Paterson.

Even if your debt hasn't been turned over to a collection agency, you or someone you know may be contacted directly by your lender as well.

That's what happened to Laura Wynn, who says her family was contacted by her car loan company.

"My sister called me very upset and said that somebody had called and wanted to know if she knew what kind of person I was and the lack of integrity that I held," said Wynn.

If you feel the collections company or creditor does cross the line-either discussing your debt with a third party or calling repeatedly--you can file a complaint with the federal trade commission.

Privacy experts point out, this trend is truly a sign of the times.

"In this time of economic downturn, debt collection is a growth industry, so I think that we're going to be hearing more complaints about debt collectors," said Givens.

If the collector already knows how to contact the debtor, they are not supposed to contact third parties.

There is an exception for contact with spouses, parents of minor children or the debtor's attorney.

Online Producer:  Bob Waters

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