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By Contributed photo
BY BLAIR LOONEY Contributing columnist
Dear Action Line, I ordered some lotion online. Apparently, it was sitting at UPS and did not get delivered to me. It was eventually shipped back to the company that sent it. Now, I have a collection agency calling me telling me I owe more than $1,000. It says if I do not pay, it will send the sheriff out to arrest me. Can it do that?
Dear Reader, It cannot send someone out to arrest you. According to the California Attorney General's office, state law prohibits debt collectors attempting to collect a consumer debt from using obscene or profane language. A collection agency or its employees must not threaten to do anything that it cannot legally do. It cannot damage your property or physically injure you or others (California Civil Code section 1788.10.
An agency may only call between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. If these hours are inconvenient for you, you may ask the agency to contact you at other times. There is no law that specifically limits the number of calls an agency may make to you. If you prefer that the agency contact you only by mail, you may ask it to do that. We suggest that you make that request by certified mail and keep a copy for your records.
Collectors cannot use postcards when contacting others, and envelopes must not contain information showing that they have been sent by a collection agency. When contacting someone other than the person who owes the debt, the collector must give his or her name but not the name of the collection agency (unless specifically asked to give that). When contacting the person who owes the debt, the collector must give either his or her name, or the name of the collection agency.
A collector cannot represent himself or herself as anyone except a collector and must tell the person who owes the debt that he or she is trying to collect the debt. Likewise, a collection agency cannot use any words or symbols in its notices to make the person who owes the debt think the notices are legal documents when they are not, or that they come from anyone other than a collection agency.
Information a collection agency must provide to you, either in its first contact with you regarding an unpaid bill or in writing within five days after that contact:
* Amount you owe;
* Name of the creditor; and
* Process to follow if you dispute the bill.
The five-day notification period applies whether the collection agency's first contact with you is by telephone or in writing, but many agencies include that information on their initial written notice, whether or not they have telephoned first.
Each written notice demanding payment for a bill must contain the following information (15 United States Code section 1692g(a)):
* Creditor's name (on the first notice);
* Name, address and telephone number of the collection agency;
* Date the notice was mailed;
* Amount due;
* Employer contact; and a statement that the debt is assumed valid unless the consumer notifies the collector within 30 days of the receipt of notice that the debt is disputed.
-- Blair Looney is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 1601 H St., Suite 101, Bakersfield, CA 93301 or email@example.com.