Debt Collection Harassment
Frequently Asked Questions for Consumers
- What debts are covered?
- Who is a debt collector?
- How may a debt collector contact you?
- Can you stop a debt collector from contacting you?
- May a debt collector contact anyone else about your debt?
- What must the debt collector tell you about the debt?
- May a debt collector continue to contact you if you believe you do not owe money?
- What types of debt collection practices are prohibited?
When Michigan residents are contacted by a collection agency, the following answers common questions about your rights as a consumer under Michigan Law: The Michigan Occupational Code, PA 299 of 1980, and federal law: the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
If you use credit cards, owe money on a personal loan, or are paying on a home mortgage, you are a “debtor.” If you fall behind in repaying your creditors, or an error is made on your accounts, you may be contacted by a “debt collector.” In either of these situations, The Michigan Occupational Code, PA 299 of 1980, and the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act require that debt collectors treat you fairly and prohibit certain methods of debt collection. Of course, the law does not erase your legal obligation for any legitimate debt you owe.
Michigan State Collection Practices Regulation
The Michigan Collection Practices Board was created under Article 9 of Public Act 299 of 1980, as amended, to license and regulate collection agencies in Michigan. Article 9 defines a collection agency as a person directly or indirectly engaged in soliciting a claim for collection, or collecting or attempting to collect a claim owed or due, or asserted to be owed or due another, or repossessing or attempting to repossess a thing of value owed or due, or asserted to be owed or due another arising out of an expressed or implied agreement.
The board currently oversees the practice of approximately 547 collection agencies and 481 collection agency managers.
Q. What debts are covered?
A. Personal, family, and household debts are covered under both The Occupational Code and the Act. This includes money owed for the purchase of a motor vehicle, for medical care, or for charge accounts. This also includes money owed for the purchase of personal watercraft, snowmobiles, or ORV’s.
Q. Who is a debt collector?
A. A debt collector is any person who regularly collects debts owed to others. This includes attorneys who collect debt on a regular basis.
Q. How may a debt collector contact you?
A. A collector may contact you in person, by mail, telephone, telegram, or fax. However, a debt collector may not contact you at inconvenient times or places, such as before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you provide written permission. A debt collector may not contact you at work if the collector knows that your employer disapproves of such contacts.
Q. Can you stop a debt collector from contacting you?
A. You can stop a debt collector from contacting you by writing a letter to the collector telling them to stop. Once the collector receives your letter, they may not contact you again except to say there will be no further contact, or to notify you that the debt collector or the creditor intends to take some specific action.
Please note, however, that sending such a letter does not make the debt go away if you legitimately owe it, you could still be sued by your original creditor.
Q. May a debt collector contact anyone else about your debt?
A. A debt collector may not, without prior consent of the consumer given directly to the debt collector, communicate, in the collection of any debt, with any person other than the consumer, his or her attorney, a consumer reporting agency if otherwise permitted by law, the creditor, the attorney of the creditor, or the attorney of the debt collector. The term consumer includes: the consumer’s spouse, parent (if consumer is a minor), guardian, executor, or administrator. If you are represented by an attorney the debt collector must contact the attorney, rather than you. A collector may contact other people, but only to find out where you live, what your phone number is, and where you work.
Collectors must state the name of the individual seeking this information and whether the purpose is for confirmation or correction of location information about the debtor. In the collection industry, this is called “skip tracing.”
Q. What must the debt collector tell you about the debt?
A. Within five days after you are first contacted, the collector must send you written notice telling you the amount of money you owe, the date the communication was sent to you, the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed, and what action to take if you believe you do not owe it.
Q. May a debt collector continue to contact you if you believe you do not owe money?
A. A collector may not contact you if, within 30 days after you receive the written notice, you send the collection agency a letter stating you do not owe the money. However, a collector can renew collection activities if you are sent proof of the debt, such as a copy of a bill for the amount owed.
Q. What types of debt collection practices are prohibited?
A1. Harassment. Debt collectors may not use a harassing, oppressive, or abusive method to collect a debt. For example, debt collectors may not:
- use threats of violence or harm;
- publish a list of consumers who refuse to pay their debts (except to a credit bureau);
- use profane or obscene language; or
- cause a telephone to ring repeatedly, or engaging a person in a telephone conversation repeatedly.
A2. False statements. Debt collectors may not use any false or misleading statements when collecting a debt. For example, debt collectors may not:
- falsely imply that they are attorney or government representatives;
- falsely imply that you have committed a crime;
- falsely represent that they operate or work for a credit bureau;
- misrepresent the amount of your debt;
- indicate that the papers being sent to you are legal forms when they are not; or
- indicate that the papers being sent to you are not legal forms when they are.
A3. Debt collectors also may not state that:
- you will be arrested if you do not pay your debt;
- they will seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages, unless the collection or creditor intends to do so, and it is legal to do so; or
- actions, such as a lawsuit, will be taken against you, when such legal action may not be taken, or when they do not intend to take such action.
A4. Debt collectors may not:
- give false credit information about you to anyone, including a credit bureau;
- send you anything that looks like an official document from a court or government agency when it is not; or
- identifying the collection agency other than by the name appearing on their Michigan license.
A5. Unfair practices. Debt collectors may not engage in unfair practices when they are attempting to collect a debt. For example, collectors may not:
- collect any amount greater than your debt, unless it is legal to do so;
- depositing or threatening to deposit a post-dated check prematurely;
- communicating with a debtor without accurately disclosing the caller’s identity or cause expenses to the debtor for a long distance telephone call, telegram, or other charge;
- fail to give the debtor a written receipt for cash payment, or other payment when specifically requested;
- take or threaten to take your property unless this can be done legally; or
- contact you by postcard.