Dealing with collection agencies can be scary, especially if they threaten to take you to court. But you do have rights. You can exercise these rights, and even if the debt is valid, in many cases, you can stop the collector in his tracks.
Write to the collector or collection agency and tell them to stop calling you. Put in the letter that you have been receiving harassing phone calls from them. Tell them you will only communicate with them in writing.
Request in writing a verification of the debt. This is your right under the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. According to the Act, all debt collection activity stops until you are given verification the debt you owe is yours and the amount is correct. Taking this action signals to the debt collector that you are not going to give in to his intimidation. If the debt collection agency cannot verify your debt, all collection activity ceases.
If your debt is verified, and you want to pay it off, try to settle the debt. Most collectors will settle for pennies on the dollar, and will be happy to settle for 50 percent of the original debt amount. If you want to settle, you will have to call the collection agency and be ready to make a settlement offer. You should have the money in hand and be ready to pay immediately by check over the phone or pay with a credit card. If you don't have the cash on hand, you may be able to work out a settlement payment plan with the collection agency.
File a sworn denial with the court, if you don't want to or can't pay the debt, and you are taken to court by the collector. Type the denial, sign it, get it notarized, file it with the clerk of the court and send a copy to the collection lawyer. Write in your sworn statement "I deny this is my debt. If it is my debt, I deny that it is still a valid debt. If it is a valid debt, I deny the amount sued for is the correct amount." When a sworn denial is filed, the collection attorney must produce a live witness to testify about the debt. The likelihood the court action will proceed decreases.
File a motion for Discovery, if the court action continues. File a written Request for Production of Documents in which you ask for a copy of the original contract on which the debt is based. Ask for the contract at trial, if you are being sued in small claims court, where discovery is not allowed. If your debt is old and has been sold to a debt purchaser, the likelihood of retrieving the original document is small. If your debt is a credit card debt, it's likely the attorney will not be able to get a copy of the original document in a timely manner, if at all, because most credit card agreements are stored on electronic archives.
Show up at trial. If your case goes to trial, do not make the mistake of skipping the trial. The worst thing that can happen to you is a money judgment will be made against you. Oppose the case being continued, if the attorney doesn't have his live witness available. Tell the judge you have taken off from work and are ready for trial. Show up again if the judge does continue the case to a new date.
Be ready to question a live witness if your court case goes forward. Your attorney will probably produce someone who will testify about your collection file. Ask this person if he has personal knowledge about your account, how long he has been in his job, when was the first time he saw your file, what he does on a daily basis, if he knows what exactly is in your file. Odds are the attorney will not bring a witness who knows on a day to day basis what is in your file. If you can destroy the witness's credibility, you may win the trial.
Appeal if you lose the trial. Appeals can take months to years, and in most jurisdictions no collection action can take place during the appeal.
Remember, during each step of the process, you increase your chances the collector will give up and put your file away.
Always deal politely with the collector or attorney. Keep your temper and never use curse words. Try to keep communication in writing as much as possible.