Collection agencies: What are my rights

Mary wakes up to the phone ringing at 6 a.m. She manages a “Hello?” “Yes, Mary, I am calling again about the overdue payment on your credit card account. We need a payment by tomorrow” says the voice on the end of the line. “I don’t know what this is about, I haven’t even brushed my teeth yet!”

Mary is not alone trying to deal with overdue bills while she tries to manage work, family and staying healthy. Collection agencies add another burden and often break the rules under the Collection Agencies Act. A good place to start is by knowing your rights and obligations.

Bill collectors can be—and often are—overly aggressive in their pursuit of payment.  While it’s never a good idea to simply ignore or avoid them if you owe the debt they claim, you don’t have to put up with harassment tactics, either. In Ontario, a collection agency:

• must be registered with the government

• must notify you in writing at least 6 days before trying to collect on a debt

• must call between 7am and 9pm Monday to Saturday and 1-5pm on Sundays

• cannot call on statutory holidays

• cannot contact you more than 3 times in a 7-day period

• cannot use threatening, profane, intimidating or coercive language

• cannot call your friends, family, employers, or anyone else for any

information about you other than your address and phone number

• cannot continue to call you for payment on a debt that you say you don’t owe.

If you are contacted by a collection agency, handle the situation calmly. Remember that your creditors have the right to try to collect any money that you owe them, but be sure that you protect yourself as well:

1. Write down the details—who the agency is, who the creditor is, and the amount they say you owe. If you have any doubts about the accuracy, tell the agency you need to confirm the details first and call them back.

2. If there’s a mistake (the amount is wrong or you’ve caught up on your payments or paid the debt in full already), tell the collection agency and then contact your creditor directly to work it out.

3. If you owe the money but cannot afford to pay it in full at the moment, be honest. Try to work out a payment plan with the collector, and then stick to it. Confirm your arrangement in writing with the agency before you begin making payments to them.

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