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Information about Debt Collection Practices

Read this in: Spanish / Español
Authored By: Antitrust and Consumer Law Section in Cooperation with the Office of Attorney General of the District of Columbia


What debts are covered under the Fair Debt Collection Act?

Personal, family, and household debts are covered under the Act. These types of debts might include money owed for the purchase of an automobile, for hospital costs or outpatient medical care, or for credit card and charge accounts.

Who is a debt collector?

A debt collector is any person who regularly collects debts owed to others. Attorneys who collect debts on a regular basis are also called debt collectors. D.C. law also applies to those who regularly collect debts owed to them.

How may a debt collector contact me?

A collector may contact you in person, or by mail, telephone, telegram, or fax.

What time can a debt collector call me?

A debt collector is not allowed to contact you at inconvenient times or places, such as before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you agree.

May debt collectors call me at work?

A debt collector may not contact you at work if the collector knows that your employer disapproves of such contacts.

Can I stop a debt collector from contacting me?

You can stop a debt collector from contacting you by writing a letter to the collector telling them to stop. After receiving your letter, a debt collector must 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 to a collector does not make the debt go away if you actually owe it. You could still be sued by the debt collector or your original creditor. If you already have an attorney, the debt collector must contact your attorney, not you.

May a debt collector contact anyone else about my debt?

If you have an attorney, the debt collector must contact the attorney, not you. If you do not have an attorney, a collector may contact other people, like your friends and family - but only for specific reasons. The debt collector can ask your friends and family members where you live, what your phone number is, and where you work, but cannot ask questions about your income or other personal information. And a debt collector is generally not allowed to contact any of these people more than once.

In most cases, the collector may not tell anyone other than you and your attorney that you owe money. And if a debt collector does give any information about you to a credit bureau or your attorney, that information must all be true.

What must the debt collector tell me about the debt?

Within five days after you are first contacted, the collector must send you a written notice telling you the amount of money you owe; the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money; and what action you should take if you believe you do not owe the money.

May a debt collector continue to contact me if I believe I do not owe money?

If you get a letter from a debt collector and you believe it is not accurate, you should write a letter in response within 30 days to explain that you do not owe money. For your own protection, you should keep a copy of your letter to the debt collector, and should mail it certified, return receipt so that you have proof of the date you sent it and that it was received. If you do that, the collector is not allowed to contact you. If the collector is able to find proof that you do owe the money (e.g. a receipt, copy of the bill or something else), the process can be restarted by sending you a new letter.

May a debt collector use mean or foul language when speaking to me?

No. Debt collectors may not harass, oppress, or abuse you or anyone else they contact about you. For example, debt collectors may not:

  • Threaten you with violence or harm;
  • Tell anyone else (except your lawyer or a credit bureau) that you have not paid your debt;
  • Swear at you or use obscene language when they speak to you; and
  • Repeatedly call you on the telephone just to annoy you.
May a debt collector lie to me about what I owe?

No. Debt collectors cannot make any false or misleading statements when collecting a debt. For example, debt collectors may not:

  • Falsely tell you or even imply that they are attorneys or government representatives;
  • Falsely imply that you have committed a crime;
  • Falsely represent that they operate or work for a credit bureau;
  • Lie to you about the amount of your debt; or
  • Tell you that papers being sent to you are legal forms when they are not, or that papers being sent to you are not legal forms when they are.
May a debt collector lie to me about what might happen to me if I can't pay?

No. Debt collectors cannot tell you that you will be arrested if you do not pay your debt, or that they will seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages, unless the collection agency or creditor truly intends to do so, and can legally do so. They also cannot tell you that they plan to file a lawsuit against you unless they are legally allowed to do so, and they intend to do so.

May a debt collector lie to me about who they are?

No. Debt collectors cannot use false names or pretend that they are contacting you for reasons other than collecting a debt. And they cannot send you any documents that look like official court or government documents when they are not.

Is there anything else that a debt collector is prohibited from doing?

Yes. Debt collectors may not engage in unfair practices when they try to collect a debt. For example, they may not:

  • Collect any amount greater than your debt, unless your state law permits such a charge;
  • Deposit a post-dated check before the date written on it, or threaten you that they are going to do that;
  • Lie to you to make you accept collect calls or pay for telegrams;
  • Take or threaten to take your property unless this can be done legally; or
  • Contact you by postcard.

Under the D.C. debt collection law, a debt collector also cannot treat you unfairly by, for example:

  • getting you to reaffirm a debt that was erased in bankruptcy without telling you that you are legally free to refuse; or
  • charging you a fee for the debt collector's work in collecting from you.
What control do I have over paying my debts?

If you owe more than one debt, any payment you make must go to the debt you want to pay. A debt collector may not use your payment for one debt to pay off a debt you believe you do not owe.

What can I do if I think a debt collector broke one of these rules?

Under federal law, you have the right to get a lawyer and sue a collector in D.C. or federal court within one year from the date the law was violated. If you win, you may recover money for the damages you suffered plus an additional amount up to $1,000. Court costs and attorney's fees also can be recovered. A group of people also may sue a debt collector and recover money for damages up to $500,000, or one percent of the collector's net worth, whichever is less.

The D.C. debt collection law may be enforced under a consumer protection law (D.C. Code § 28-3905 (k)(1)) that allows you to recover:

  • Three times your damages, or $1,500 per violation, whichever is greater.
  • Punitive damages (to punish the person who has done wrong).
  • Other relief that the court thinks proper.
Where can I report a debt collector for an alleged violation?

If you live in D.C., you may report a problem you have with a debt collector to the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia and the Federal Trade Commission. D.C. has its own debt collection law in addition to the federal law, and the Attorney General's office can help you determine your rights. The D.C. Attorney General's office has a Consumer Hotline for you to call, at (202) 442-9828. You can also call the FTC at (202) FTC-HELP. While the D.C. Attorney General or the FTC will not sue for just one person, if they suspect or believe that a company has a regular practice that violates the law, they may investigate or bring a lawsuit.

Where can I find help with managing my debts?

You can look for counseling services that provide assistance to persons having difficulty budgeting money and paying bills. Members of the National Foundation for Consumer Credit (NFCC) provide educational programs on money management and help in developing debt payment plans. These nonprofit agencies are locally managed and operate under the name Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS). To locate the nearest NFCC member, call toll-free, 24 hours a day, 1-800-388-2227 or visit

Free or low-cost credit counseling is also provided by credit unions, cooperative extension offices, military family services centers and religious organizations.

Last Review and Update: Jan 01, 2017
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