Being in debt is a stressful enough experience without adding in the anxiety that results from being hounded by debt collectors. If you find yourself struggling and don’t know how to cope any longer, here are some ways you can protect yourself.
Start by Knowing your Rights
Harassment is Forbidden
Regardless of where you live in Canada, debt collectors cannot harass you. The legal definition of harassment according to the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act includes the collector using threatening or intimidating language, exerting excessive or unreasonable pressure on you, and publishing or threatening to publish the debtor’s (your) failure to pay what is owed.
These harassment rules extend to your family, acquaintances and employer. They’re not allowed to intimidate you or cause alarm, distress, or humiliation.
They Cannot Lie to You or Misinform You
Debt collectors can’t lie about the amount of money you owe, pretend to be someone they’re not in order to collect the debt (posing as a lawyer, for example) or threaten to sue you when the collection agency does not intend to (or actually have the authority to follow through).
Some of the laws that exist to keep debt collectors in line are 1) They have to clearly identify themselves when contacting you, 2) While they can contact you by mail, phone, or fax, they can’t call you at unreasonable times or places (which vary province by province). In some provinces, they also can’t call you on your cellphone if it’s going to cost you any money, 3) Collectors do have the right to contact you once while at work, but as soon as you tell them not to, they must stop. Make sure all of your communications with the debt collector are in writing (and keep a record of them).
They Cannot Talk About Your Debt with your Employer, Friends, or Family
While a debt collector can call your employer or place of work to confirm your employment or determine your pay periods, they cannot harass your boss or tarnish your reputation by insinuating you should be fired because of your debt. Similarly, they can only make one attempt to collect a debt from you while you’re at work (and that’s only if they’re unable to reach you at home or you won’t respond).
The only time a debt collector can contact any of your acquaintances is in order to get or confirm your mailing address. It’s important to note that there may be exceptions for family members who have agreed to act as guarantors as they’re directly involved in the debt repayment process. The debt collector is never allowed to discuss your debt or finances with anyone who’s not directly connected to the debt or who you have given written permission to handle your financial situation.
Debt Collection Laws Vary Province by Province
In most provinces, debt collectors are not allowed to call or contact you between the hours of 9 at night and 7 in the morning. In Alberta, the hours in which you cannot be contacted are from 10 at night to 7 in the morning, and in Newfoundland and Labrador it’s from 10 at night until 8 am the next morning.
Manitoba won’t allow debt collectors call or visit you before 7 am and across most provinces Sundays and statutory holidays are typically at least partially prohibited.
In Ontario, debt collectors can’t email, leave a voicemail, or speak with you in person more than three times a week after their initial conversation with you. Regular mail is the only legal means of communicating beyond those restrictions. A similar rule exists in Alberta and Nova Scotia limiting debt collector contact. In BC (and most other provinces), as soon as you tell a debt collector that they’re only allowed to contact you by mail, they must stop phoning you.
Consider Consumer Proposal or Credit Counselling
If you’re genuinely interested in trying to find a way to pay back the debt, one of the best ways to get collectors off of your back is to start credit counselling or entering into a consumer proposal. Find out more information about both here.
Once you have a licensed qualified credit counsellor, you can advise the debt collector to contact them directly. The same applies if you have a lawyer.
If you feel you’re being mistreated or harassed by debt collectors, there are two options you can pursue:
- Send a letter to the agency’s head office (or have your lawyer do it)
- Complain to your provincial regulator if you believe the collection agency is breaking the law
Keep a log of the time and date of every time debt collector call. Collectors must tell you the legal name they’re licensed under, as well as the the legal name of the collection agency, so make sure to ask for both. Make sure to keep a physical copy of every piece of mail or email they’ve sent you in the past as well.