How Do I Confront Unfair Debt Collection?


These questions and responses DO NOT constitute legal advice. They are intended to provide general information to improve your consumer literacy and give a broad understanding about how the marketplace works in the areas discussed. Consumer protection laws differ in different states. Even in California laws frequently change through legislative amendments, developing case law, and sometimes the effect of overriding federal regulations. Your legal rights and remedies will depend on your particular circumstances, documents and evidence. If you have further questions, just give us a call.

Can They Threaten Me With Criminal Charges, Threaten to Take My Kids Away, Swear at My Wife and Mother?

No, no, and no. California law protects debtors against this sort of abuse.

Can They Call My Boss at Work?

Only under very limited circumstances. When contacting others, including your workplace, the debt collector may not say anything disparaging about you, and may only identify the debtor’s employment and current location.

Can They Call My House?

Yes, but with certain exceptions they may only talk to you or your spouse. Keep track of every phone call. You can’t record calls without informing the caller – except if they choose to leave the message on your answering machine. If so, save every call that is recorded. Don’t erase anything that will prove their harassment.

The Debt Collector is Calling Me at All Times of the Day and Night. Is This Allowed?

No. The debt collector may not call at unreasonable hours or cause a telephone to ring repeatedly or continuously. As painful as it may be to do so, keep a running record of the times of all calls.

What Do I Do if I Call Up the Creditor and They Offer to Reduce the Debt?

First: Beware! Make sure you actually owe the debt, in the exact amount claimed, to the person calling you. Get everything in writing. And don’t pay anything extra for the “privilege” of renegotiating the deal.

What if I Get Sued?

Do not ignore it. This is where you really must seek legal advice. Many debtors have defenses to these lawsuits and the creditors are just assuming that you will default. Fight back, particularly if you feel you were cheated in the original transaction or you don’t owe the exact amount they claim you must pay.

What if More Than One Company is Trying to Collect the Same Debt?

A lot has been said in the press lately about “toxic assets.” This catch-all term includes uncollectible debts. Yours may be one of those. Sometimes this debt was bundled and sold. The party harassing you might not even be able to prove they own the debt. If some company you don’t even recognize demands payment, you should be sure that they can prove they own that debt and have the right to demand payment from you.

What if the Debt Collector isn’t the Lender or Creditor?

If the original creditor has sold the debt (which is often the case) the debt collector has to give certain notices. If you get such a notice, demand the sender verify the debt. Keep every piece of paper you receive from debt collectors. A “validation notice” must comply with the law.

Can the Caller Lie to Me?

The debt collector may not falsely represent him- or herself as a lawyer or make the false representation that he or she is a consumer reporting agency, or make other fraudulent statements.

My Debts are Mounting Up and I Feel Overwhelmed — What Can I Do?

This is not a general debt advice column. But it is good common sense to limit your spending, cancel unnecessary credit cards, open your mail, throw nothing away and organize all your loan documents. We recommend the book “Surviving Debt” published by the National Consumer Law Center. You can order one from or go to your local public library. This book will help you learn which debts to pay first, what debt relief scams to avoid, when you can negotiate, what defenses you might have, and when to seek legal help.

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