After a debt collector sends you a notice, you have 30 days to respond. If you communicate to them that you want to have the debt validated and they haven't responded over a month later, either about the verification request or collection attempts, what can you do?

Are they required to respond to verification requests, or can they gather information on their side and go straight to suing you?

If they are required to do so, what is the time limit for that, and what penalties are there if they don't?

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    Do you actually owe a debt that might have gone to collections? Or are you implying that the debt collector is a troll who is trying to fool or harass you into paying money that you actually do not owe? Third alternative: you were disputing a charge on a credit card, the credit card company sided with the merchant and demanded payment but you have no intention of paying because you believe that you don't morally owe the money regardless of what anyone says? – Dilip Sarwate Jun 5 '13 at 15:47
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    If the debt is legitimate, then the question of what debt collectors can and cannot do is one of law, not personal finance. – Dilip Sarwate Jun 5 '13 at 16:13
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    @DilipSarwate I think we're interested in such consumer issues here too, though. Refer to meta.money.stackexchange.com/questions/597/… – Chris W. Rea Jun 5 '13 at 18:24
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    It's entirely within a debtor's right to request verification. The burden of proof is 100% on them. I don't feel sorry for them at all, and one would be foolish to roll over without a fight. – Bigbio2002 Jun 5 '13 at 18:45
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    @DilipSarwate Noted. While I won't question this OP's intentions, I'll remark there are cases where a debt is claimed from someone who, while they may have intended to transact, have a valid reason after the fact to withhold payment (e.g. broken service contract condition, receipt of faulty or damaged goods, etc.) I think consumers who contest a debt from such a perspective would be interested in the answers to this question. – Chris W. Rea Jun 5 '13 at 18:55

Debt collectors are required to validate the debt and send you verification within five days of their initial communication with you. The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA), section 809 (Validation of Debts), subsection a) lays this out clearly:

a) Within five days after the initial communication with a consumer in connection with the collection of any debt, a debt collector shall, unless the following information is contained in the initial communication or the consumer has paid the debt, send the consumer a written notice containing:

  1. the amount of the debt
  2. the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed
  3. a statement that unless the consumer, within thirty days after receipt of the notice, disputes the validity of the debt, or any portion thereof, the debt will be assumed to be valid by the debt collector
  4. a statement that if the consumer notifies the debt collector in writing within the thirty-day period that the debt, or any portion thereof, is disputed, the debt collector will obtain verification of the debt or a copy of a judgment against the consumer and a copy of such verification or judgment will be mailed to the consumer by the debt collector
  5. a statement that, upon the consumer's written request within the thirty-day period, the debt collector will provide the consumer with the name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor.

However, if you notify them in writing to dispute the debt, the debt collector has to stop collection of the debt and send you written verification of it (which they already should have anyway). Per the act:

b) If the consumer notifies the debt collector in writing within the thirty-day period described in subsection (a) that the debt ... is disputed, or that the consumer requests the name and address of the original creditor, the debt collector shall cease collection of the debt ... until the debt collector obtains verification of the debt or any copy of a judgment, or the name and address of the original creditor, and a copy of such verification or judgment, or name and address of the original creditor, is mailed to the consumer by the debt collector.

c) The failure of a consumer to dispute the validity of a debt under this section may not be construed by any court as an admission of liability by the consumer.

As for debt collectors that don't follow the act, section 813 (Civil Liability), lays out the consequences clearly. I won't quote it because it's a little long, but it's important to realize that per the title, these are civil penalties. That means they normally require a suit to be filed against the debt collector; if you read this section of the act, you can readily see that the penalties will occur as the result of civil legal action.

In short, yes, the debt collector is required to send you verification within a short time period after initially informing you. If they don't, you need to talk to a lawyer if you feel civil action is the best recourse. Since I'm not a lawyer, I can't, and don't, pretend to provide any meaningful legal advice.

Side note: I should add that one criticism of the FDCPA is that it limits the civil penalties the court can award an individual, above and beyond the damages caused by the debt collection agency, to $1,000. The act was passed in 1977, so inflation has reduced the real amount and purchasing power of that award.

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