If you’re getting texts from someone who might be a debt collector, it’s important to know that you have lots of rights, and there are lots of ways to deal with your debt.
It can be quite unnerving when a debt collector calls or texts you, especially because you may not have any idea who they are or why their particular company is calling you.
Often, if you owe money to, for example, your phone company and you persistently fail to repay the debt, they will sell your debt on to a debt collector at a fraction of the price. The debt collection agency – who you have likely never heard of before – then makes it their business to chase you for the full amount, in order to make a profit.
However, if you have the right tools and knowledge – including information on how to check a debt collectors number when they text you – you’re in a much better position to assess the situation, and work out what to do.
How do you track a text message from a debt collector?
You can track a text message from a debt collector by entering their number into a reverse phone look-up tool, and seeing if anyone has reported their identity, location, or the company they’re collecting debts for.
Reverse phone look-up tools like Who called me? and Whitepages will show you reports by other recipients of calls or texts from the debt collector’s number, which will confirm that the debt collector is, for example, from Wescot Credit Services or STA International, which can help you identify the debt you owe, and work out your next steps.
Let’s dive right in, and look more closely at how you track a text message from a debt collector.
How can I get information on a debt collector who is texting me?
There are ways to get information on a debt collector who is texting you, including their location, but it’s important to stick to what is legal. In the US and the UK it is usually illegal to track the actual location of an adult through their cell phone without them giving consent (although it is OK to track the phone of a minor in your care, to ensure their safety). In the US, you’d usually need to be part of a law enforcement agency and have a warrant to track someone’s physical location.
However, it is perfectly understandable that you’ll want to know who is texting you, what company they are collecting debts for and whether they are a legitimate debt collector and not a scam caller, hoping to make a quick buck off your naivety. Reverse phone look up tools are a legal and useful tool for finding information on a number that is being used to text you.
To check a phone number, go to a reverse phone look up tool like Whitepages, and enter the debt collector’s number, and it will come up with any recorded information about them. if you have their name, zip or post code, or you find the address of the debt collection agency they’re calling or texting from, you can also enter it into the ‘people’ section of Whitepages and find anything including professional licenses, scam and fraud ratings (this is particularly important if you want to check if a debt collector is legitimate), business details, other addresses and phone numbers, and criminal records (important, as if a debt collector ever behaves abusively to you, you have the right to report and sue them, and it’s good to check if they have any prior reports of abuse). If the debt collector is texting or calling from a landline, a reverse phone look up tool will help you find their general location through their area code.
There is also a reverse phone number lookout tool specifically designed for debt collectors and bailiffs in the UK. IVA Advice allows you to both report debt collectors’ numbers and check numbers in their debt collectors and bailiffs directory, where you can see other users’ comments on the number, to give you more information on the company texting you.
Are debt collectors allowed to text and call you?
In the UK and the US, debt collectors do have the right to text and call you, but they are strictly governed by the The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) in the US and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in the UK, and there are many things they are prohibited from doing in both countries. Debt collectors are not allowed to:
- Threaten, harass or intimidate you. If debt collectors verbally, physically or psychologically abuse you, they are breaking the law. You can report them to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau immediately.
- Use obscene or threatening language
- Make repetitive phone calls or send you texts too often (this counts as harassment)
- Discuss your debt with other people. Debt collectors cannot call, text or otherwise contact your friends, family or anyone else to let them know you have a debt, or reveal that they are a debt collector. The most they can ask for is your contact details. Exceptions apply to contacting your spouse.
- Pretend to be a bailiff or someone from law enforcement, or misrepresent themselves and their powers in any way, including making false threats of arrest and doing or saying they can do things that debt collectors actually have no power to do (removing items from your home, sending you to prison, taking money from your wages or bank account without a court order)
- Falsify documents to make them look like legal or other documents to force you to pay your debt
- Use unhelpful or confusing jargon, designed to intimidate you
What are your rights when debt collectors text or call you?
You have several rights when debt collectors call you, including the fact that:
- Debt collectors cannot text, call or communicate with you in any way at before 8 am or after 9pm in both the US and UK.
- Debt collectors are not allowed to email or message you at work in the US if you tell them that you’re not allowed to take personal calls or messages at work.
- Debt collectors cannot text, call, email or otherwise contact your boss or another third-party at your work, for any other reason than to confirm your employment. They cannot reveal, implicitly or explicitly, that you owe a debt, and that they’re attempting to collect that debt. The only exception to this is when you’ve given permission for them to contact you at work, or if there’s a court judgement against you and the court needs to get information from your employer to carry this out.
- In the US, you have the right to demand a debt collector stop contacting you at all, by text or any other form of communication. When a debt collector receives this demand – usually called a ‘cease and desist’ letter, which you can easily write and print off yourself – they are only allowed to contact you again to say they will stop contacting you, or to say that they’re taking you to court.
- In the UK, you have the right to ask for a ‘breathing space’ from your debts, which typically lasts 30 days (it will come up to 60 in May 2021, due to the pressure of Covid-19 on people’s finances), and gives you a break from all debt collector contact. Use this time to contact a free debt charity like StepChange, who can help you sort out your debts in a way that is affordable to you.
What should I do when a debt collector texts me?
It can be stressful to get texts or calls from a debt collector, and they often rely on catching you off guard, or the natural instinct most people have to be polite or helpful on the phone. Remember that their aim is to make a profit. The best thing you can do when you’re texted by a debt collector is to breathe. There are lots of steps you can take to get control of the situation and sort out your debt. Here are 4 steps you can take when debt collectors text you.
Wait to reply if it’s not a good time
If you get a text message from a debt collector that takes you by surprise or worries you, your first instinct may be to pick up the phone and call them to see what the issue is. However, it’s good to take time to work out exactly where this debt could be coming from, and how you’re going to approach the issue, whether you owe the debt or not. It’s a good idea to look up the debt collector’s phone number, to see what other people have been saying, and whether it’s a scam. If a debt collector calls, simply say “now is not a good time. Please call back tomorrow at 5pm”, for example.
Find out if you actually owe the debt
n the UK, if you took out credit under the Consumer Credit Act, and the debt collector chasing you can’t produce the original credit agreement, they can’t take you to court to get it back, and so you might not have to pay the debt. In the US, if the debt collector can’t provide documentation regarding the debt, they are much less likely to win a lawsuit against you. If the debt collection agency doesn’t have verification of the debt, they’re actually violating federal policies. You could even counter-sue, and get up to $1,000 per lawsuit, plus attorney’s fees and court costs!
In the UK, if your debt is older than six years, it is not enforceable, and you may not have to pay it. In the US, if your debt is past the statute of limitations, it isn’t enforceable. While debt collectors can still contact you about it, there’s nothing they can do int terms of taking you to court and actually forcing you to pay. They are also limited by laws when they contact you, so they can’t do much to unfairly pressure you to pay.
Contact a debt charity or non-profit
A great way to get emotional and practical support with debt and debt collectors, is to get free help with a debt charity in the UK, and a debt support non-profit in the US.
Debt charities and credit counselling services in the UK and US can help you with free debt management plans, as well as debt support. With debt management plans, a debt charity may be ale to freeze interest and cancel fees on your debt and work out one, manageable monthly payment for all your debts, to be divided equally among your creditors. This could be a much better option than continuing to ignore debt collectors, as they can eventually end up taking you to court (don’t worry, though, you can’t go to prison in the UK or US for being unable to pay your debts).
Insolvency solutions are a last resort that help you write off your debt if you really can’t afford to pay it off in whole. However, these will significantly damage your credit score, so it’s worth considering them carefully before you agree to one.
To know more about it read – What is an IVA and you will get the full idea.
In the UK, you can have an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA). This allows you to pay back a small, affordable percentage of your debt each month, and then at the end of the IVA (5-6 years), the whole debt gets totally written off, no matter how much you still owe. Your creditors will also be stopped from contacting you. You can also get a Debt Relief Order if you have very little assets (less than £50 in disposable income and no property), which writes off your debt after 12 months and gives you legal protection from your creditors during this time.
In the UK and US, bankruptcy is also an option. You have to go through the courts for this, and when you are declared bankrupt, all your debts will be discharged (dissolved), and no longer exist. However, this is a serious decision which has significant impact on your life and finances, so it is not to be taken lightly.
Now that we’ve gone through how to track a debt collector’s number from their text messages, as well as your rights when debt collectors text or call you, we hope you’ve found it a useful read. Remember that even though dealing with debt can be a very stressful experience, you are not alone and there are lots of ways to deal with your debt, so that you can enjoy the debt-free future you deserve.