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If you live in the Miami area and have heard from one or more debt collectors recently, understand your rights and take action as soon as possible. This is critically important to avoid creditor harassment for debts you may feel are no longer valid.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act covers personal and household debts, including credit card accounts, auto loans medical bills and mortgage loans. The National Association of Consumer Advocates suggests some answers you need to manage this situation.

You can halt debt collector contacts by sending them certified mail stating “you hare hereby notified to cease and desist all further communication with me in regard to the referenced debt.” The only additional contact you may receive is to notify you that the creditor has filed a lawsuit to collect the debt.

The collector can contact your attorney, if you have one, to discuss your debt. Collectors may contact your friends, relatives, neighbors and co-workers only to get your up-to-date address, home phone number and/or employer name. They cannot discuss your debt or its status.

Debt collectors must notify you–and you, alone–of the amount owed, the creditor’s name and ways you can dispute the claim. If you dispute a questionable debt, write to the collector and request verification of the debt.

Collectors can file lawsuits to collect valid debts. Should they win, the court will enter a judgment against you. This will give collectors the ability to garnish bank accounts or wages, but not Social Security or other federal government benefits.

If you are sued, be sure to respond–or have your attorney respond–within the time limit mandated in the legal paperwork. This preserves your rights to dispute the claim or participate in your defense, should the case go to court.

Have you ever been contacted by or harassed by a debt collector? If yes, how did you manage this uncomfortable situation? How was it resolved?

Source: The Columbus Dispatch, “Take fast action if a debt collector comes calling,” Oct. 7, 2012