Today, far too many Americans are drowning in debt and are subject to abusive debt collection practices on a daily or weekly basis. But what, exactly, is Debt Collection Agency? In a nutshell, they are companies that put the squeeze on consumers to pay outstanding bills. The types of debts can range from medical to automotive bills, from credit cards to bank loans, from education-related bills to utility bills.

Debt collection agencies can go about pursuing collection in a number of ways, including telephone and mail communication. Most third-party collection agencies work on a fee or percentage arrangement with clients who are owed the money. Essentially, the more money the agency collects, the higher the commission or fee it receives. Some unethical debt collectors will use a variety of tactics such as harassment, embarrassment, and even threats to try and collect. What should you do if you are being harassed by a collection agency? Follow some of these tips.

If you know that you legitimately owe a debt but cannot pay it or can’t afford the monthly payments, try and set up a payment arrangement or lump sum to settle the debt. Some debt collectors are willing to work with you if you keep the lines of communication open. The collection agencies want to be paid too, and some realize that it is easier to collect when working within a person’s budget. If you do negotiate a settlement or payment plan, however, it’s important to get it in writing. Debt collection agencies have a notoriously high staff turnover, and the agreement you made verbally with one collector won’t be enforceable when a new collector is assigned to your account.

While some debt collection agencies work within the law, many do not. They would rather bombard you with letters or constantly call you then to stick within the guidelines of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act – a federal law meant to protect consumers from debt collection abuse. Many debt collectors will try to scare people into paying debts by threatening legal action (which is illegal if they have no intention of doing so), by threatening to take your property, drain your bank account, or simply ruin your life. This type of harassment is grave misconduct, against the law, and is grounds for a federal lawsuit. You should retain the services of a fair debt attorney, file a complaint with your state Attorney General’s office, and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

Above all, you should learn your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Unsavory collection agencies count on the fact that consumers don’t know their rights, and cross the line into illegal behavior, knowing they won’t be caught.