Debt collectors: Can they try to collect a disputed debt?

Debt tagging. It sounds a bit like a childhood game, but there is no fun involved for the person who has been tagged by a debt collector.

Debt tagging often occurs because of a similarity in your name and another person's name. But once a bill collector is after you, even for a debt that is not yours, it can be very difficult to get them to stop collection efforts.

You can (and should) dispute a debt that is not yours, of course. But can a debt collector continue to try to collect that debt?

The federal government's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) says that the key to putting the brakes on the collection process is to dispute the debt in writing within 30 days of the collector's first contact with you. If you do that, the CFPB adds, "the debt collector can't call or contact you until after your dispute has been investigated and the debt collector has provided proof of the debt in writing to you."

If the investigation shows that the debt does not belong to you, the collector must stop collection efforts.

However, if the investigation indicates that the debt is yours, and you wish to continue to dispute the debt, the collector can continue his or her efforts, but any reports they file to a credit bureau must acknowledge that the debt is disputed.

One thing a debt collector cannot do during the process is engage in prohibited harassment or abuse. If they violate the law, you can fight back with the help of an attorney dedicated to consumer protection.

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