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It’s every consumer’s worst nightmare: You’re busy at work, mired in debt, and your cellphone keeps ringing. You’re doing your best to pay off that bill, but the unknown number flashing on your phone’s screen is a dismal reminder you haven’t.

“Most people want to pay their debt, they just run into bad situations where they can’t,” Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education for Credit.com, says. “If a debt collector will work with them, a lot of times, they’ll resolve the debt.”

But not every debt collector plays by the rules, and luckily there are protections in place that allow consumers to fight back if a debt collector has run afoul of the law. Here are four times when consumers can sue.

1. Calling Early & Calling Late

A debt collector may not call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. The time frame may sound arbitrary, but think about it: This is when you’re away from work, at home with family, or resting in bed. When a debt collector calls at a time that is known to be inconvenient, David Menditto, director of litigation for Lifetime Debt Solutions, a law firm in Chicago, says, that’s a violation of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).

2. Calling at Other Inconvenient Times

If you’ve told the collector not to call at a certain time, even if it’s when you take a nap, Detweiler says, that’s another violation of the FDCPA. “If you were to tell the collector, I work nights, so don’t call me then, they can’t,” she says. Consumers can set the parameters.

3. Discussing Debt With Third Parties

“If a debt collector calls your mother and says, ‘Hi, we’re looking for John, he owes us money. How do we get in touch?’” that’s yet another violation of the FDCPA, Menditto tells Credit.com. “They can call, ask to speak with John, and ask whether this is a good number to reach him at, but they can’t be discussing the debt,” he says. Collectors are allowed to contact a debtor’s spouse, however.

If people you know are getting calls about a debt you may owe, it’s a good time to check your credit reports to see if there are delinquent accounts or collection accounts listed. You can get your credit reports for free once a year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies, and you can get a free credit report summary every month on Credit.com, to look for any issues. There are debt collection scammers out there, so checking your credit is a way of verifying that the call is legitimate.

4. When a Lawyer’s Involved

If a collector calls even though he or she knows that you’ve hired an attorney, that’s a violation of the FDCPA, Menditto says. The reason: The consumer may intend to file for bankruptcy and they’ve probably told the collector to stop contacting them. “We’ve had clients who claimed they told the debt collector to stop calling, and they didn’t,” Menditto says. “Then they got an attorney and said, ‘Talk to him,’ and the collector kept calling and the collection got violated there.”

Want to understand more about what debt collectors can and can’t do? Check out “12 Times You Can Sue a Debt Collector” for the full list.

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The purpose of this disclosure is to explain how we make money without charging you for our content.

Our mission is to help people at any stage of life make smart financial decisions through research, reporting, reviews, recommendations, and tools.

Earning your trust is essential to our success, and we believe transparency is critical to creating that trust. To that end, you should know that many or all of the companies featured here are partners who advertise with us.

Our content is free because our partners pay us a referral fee if you click on links or call any of the phone numbers on our site. If you choose to interact with the content on our site, we will likely receive compensation. If you don't, we will not be compensated. Ultimately the choice is yours.

Opinions are our own and our editors and staff writers are instructed to maintain editorial integrity, but compensation along with in-depth research will determine where, how, and in what order they appear on the page.

To find out more about our editorial process and how we make money, click here.

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