If you have fallen behind on bills, you probably know what it feels like to be hounded by debt collectors on a daily basis, but you may not know that this harassment can be stopped by simply writing a letter. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in 1977, requires debt collectors to honor written cease-and-desist requests, and it also places strict limits on what collectors can and cannot do when contact is permitted.

What can debt collectors do?

The FDCPA prohibits contacting consumers before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m., and it requires them to follow certain rules when they do call. Debt collectors cannot threaten consumers or use foul language, and they are not permitted to share personal financial information with third parties like employers or family members. However, they can file lawsuits to recover money that they are legitimately owed or sell debts for pennies on the dollar to other collection agencies.

What can you do?

If you wish to complain about debt collectors that violate these rules, you can contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Complaints can be submitted online or on the phone. Ohio residents who have been harassed or threatened by a collection agency can also file a complaint with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

Debt collectors must also stop contacting consumers directly when they are referred to an attorney with debt relief experience. In addition to dealing with collection agencies, attorneys may explain how filing a bankruptcy provides an escape from overwhelming debt and offers the chance of a fresh start. Attorneys may also point out that bankruptcy judges issue an automatic stay when a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 petition is filed. This is a court order that puts an end to debt collector harassment and stops debt-related lawsuits.