Debt collectors are persistent, and this persistence can be overwhelming.

Thankfully, there may be a way for you to reduce some of the tension. If you’re tired of incessant contact demanding payment, try using this 11-word phrase to stop debt collectors:

“Please cease and desist all calls and contact with me immediately.”

The internet loves this strategy, but is it effective? Does this 11-word phrase to stop debt collectors actually work?

And what other steps can you take to protect yourself from overly “enthusiastic” collection agencies?

So… does it work?

The internet claims a magical 11-word phrase does stop debt collectors—but here’s an important distinction.

While this phrase can help prevent communications, it won’t stop collection. In other words, if you use the 11-word phrase, you can expect the end of phone calls and emails, but that’s all.

That said, if you think debt collection is unjust, there are other ways to protect yourself.

First, know your rights

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) was created to protect consumer rights. It’s helpful to familiarize yourself with some of the most important ones:

  1. The right to dispute the debt: Under the FDCPA, if you dispute a debt, the collectors must halt collection until verification is complete. They must also provide you with written evidence of the debt.
  2. The right to control when and how debt collectors contact you: Your preferred methods and times of communication must be respected by debt collectors.
  3. The right to be treated fairly and respectfully: Abusive and harassing language is strictly prohibited, as are false statements and deceptive practices.
  4. The right to accuracy: Debt collectors must provide accurate and factual details regarding the debt. Ensure your personal information, the amount owed, and the original creditor's name are correct.
  5. The right to sue: Debtors can sue debt collectors in state or federal courts if they violate the FDCPA.
  6. The right to request debt collectors cease contact: Of course, the FDCPA also protects consumers from overbearing communication. Debt collectors must stop communication if asked.

Harassment: what does it look like?

Under the FDCPA, debt collectors are explicitly prohibited from harassing borrowers. Sometimes, debtors are unsure whether a collector is engaging in harassment.

Some of the most common forms of debt collector harassment include:

  • Calling borrowers at off-hours, like in the middle of the night
  • Contacting borrowers without identifying themselves
  • Incessant communication, like repetitive text messages, emails, and phone calls
  • Threats of physical harm
  • Using obscene language
  • Publicizing lists of borrowers with outstanding debts

Misrepresentation by debt collectors

The FDCPA doesn’t just prohibit harassment; it also forbids misrepresentation. Debt collectors cannot manipulate the truth in any way, shape, or form in their pursuit of repayment.

Here are some typical misrepresentations you should know about:

  • Labeling old debt as new: In some jurisdictions, debt collectors are prevented from collecting debts past a certain age. Sometimes, malicious collectors will misrepresent debt as newer than it actually is.
  • Presenting a false identity: Keep an eye out for debt collectors posing as someone else, like a police officer or lawyer.
  • Providing inaccurate balances: Ensure the debt collector is not providing you with a false balance, incorrect fees, or the wrong interest rate.
  • Malicious credit reporting: Debt collectors might provide misleading or false credit reports.

Fight back against debt collectors

In the game of debt collection, it pays to understand the rules. It’s imperative to use every edge and advantage you can find.

  • Deliver a cease and desist letter: While exceptions exist, sending instructions to the debt collector in writing can be helpful. Again, use the exact 11-word phrase to stop debt collectors from contacting you: “Please cease and desist all calls and contact with me immediately.” Under the FDCPA, the debt collector must adhere to the cease and desist request.
  • Highlight your inability to pay: Tell the debt collector you cannot afford to pay. While it’s unlikely to halt debt collections on the amount you owe, it may encourage the collector to focus their efforts elsewhere. At the very least, it may buy you time.
  • Assess your credit reports: Once a year, request a free copy of your credit report from one or all of the major reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion). Inspect it for inconsistencies. If you identify inaccurate information, dispute the error.
  • Diligently keep records: Debt collection can fester for years. During that time, a lot can happen. Most of us forget specific details. That’s why keeping detailed records of conversations with debt collectors is prudent. Note whom you spoke to, the nature of the call, and the time they called. Highlight any unusual, inconsistent, or abusive language.
  • Demand debt verification: Do you suspect the debt isn’t yours? Or, is the debt collection past the statute of limitations? If so, consider sending a debt validation letter within 30 days of the first debt collector contact. Upon receipt, they must verify the debt is valid. Since debt collectors often purchase these debts from lenders, proper documentation is sometimes missing.
  • Insist the debt is illegitimate: Do you believe you shouldn’t owe the debt? Then tell them. Use a valid reason to describe why the debt cannot be collected. In some cases, they may voluntarily cease collection.

These tactics can help frustrate and slow a debt collector. While some may work better than others, most are worth pursuing.

Yes, debt collection can be frustrating, but you’re not out of control.

Know your rights based on the terms of your loan and the jurisdiction in which you reside. Ultimately, leveraging all the tools you have at your disposal when dealing with collectors is essential.