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We have a consumer alert about one of the most common complaints that comes into the Attorney General's office: debt collectors. The Attorney General's office took over 1,800 complaints about debt collectors last year. The problem: not everyone knows the rules.

Attorney General Roy Cooper offered advice about the things debt collectors are, and are not, allowed to do.

There are many things debt collectors are allowed to do that you might not realize. Debt collectors are allowed to contact you:

•In person, or by mail, telephone, or fax.

•At home, between the hours of 8 AM and 9 PM

.•At work, unless they have a telephone number to reach you during non-working hours. Debt collectors must stop calling you at work if they know that your employer disapproves of the calls.

•Through people who know you, if they're unable to find you. When a collection agency contacts people you know, they are not allowed to say why they are trying to contact you or how much you owe.

But you should also pay attention to what they can't do. These should be red flags if they ever happen. Debt collectors may not: •Harass you, use profanity, or threaten you with violence.

•Tell you that you will be arrested if you don't pay your debts.

•Pretend to be attorneys or government representatives.

•Tell your employer or others about your debts.

•Pretend that they are contacting you for reasons other than to collect a debt.

•Contact you before 8 AM or after 9 PM unless you agree.

They also have to be collecting a debt you actually owe! We talked to Attorney General Roy Cooper via Skype, and he said we should all be aware of something called Zombie debt. "There are a lot of debt buyers out there who make a living simply buying debt at a discounted rate and then they will try and collect it. Sometimes debt is bought over and over again and when that happens, sometimes that information becomes less and less accurate to the point where the figures might be wrong and even the people might be wrong."

So before you pay off a debt make sure you do owe it. Ask for it in writing. Legitimate debt collectors will want to be sure they have the right information. And if you need help settling your debt, Cooper said don't pay anything upfront. "It is illegal in North Carolina to get money up front for this type of debt settlement relief. So if they want your money up front then you know that you are dealing with a company that is not legitimate. There are plenty of non-profit debt counselors out there that can help sort out your debt, try to get it straight, without going to these companies that will drive you deeper into debt."

If you're getting calls and you want them to stop, put your request in writing. It should tell the debt collector to cease phone contact with you both at your home and your job. Send the letter by certified mail and be sure to keep a copy of the letter for your own records. Once they get your letter, they may not contact you again except to tell you that a creditor intends to take some specific action on your account.

For more information on debt collection from the North Carolina Attorney General's Office, click here.

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