Getting an unexpected call from a debt collector can be an intimidating experience. Often, debt collectors will try to pressure you into paying them over the phone on the spot. But even if you’re swimming in debt, you have rights when a debt collector calls, and you should always do your homework and exercise your rights before you pay.

Here’s what you should do when contacted by a debt collector:

1. Don’t Admit That You Owe

When you receive a call from a debt collector, it’s important not to panic or pay the debt immediately. Even if the debt is legitimate, you are not required to pay on the spot. Also, you shouldn’t confirm that you do owe the debt – that admission could be used against you in the future.

2. Don’t Pay Immediately

As mentioned above, you are not required to pay a debt collector over the phone upon their initial contact, even if the debt is legitimate. The debt collector could be a scammer, or they may not be able to prove you owe what they say you owe. That’s why it’s important not to pay immediately.

3. Take Notes

When the debt collector calls, you should grab a pen and piece of paper to take notes. You should write down the name and contact information of the debt collector, the amount owed, the name of the original creditor and any other information the debt collector provides over the phone.

4. Get Contact Information for Written Requests

By law, debt collectors are required to inform you that you can request verification of the debt and dispute it – but that may not always happen. Make sure you take down the debt collector’s contact information so you can send correspondence in the future. By law, the debt collector must provide a written notice within five days of the initial contact, with the following information:

• The amount they say you owe
• The name of the original creditor
• A statement that you have 30 days after receipt of the notice to dispute the debt
• A statement that the debt collector must provide written verification of the debt within 30 days of a dispute
• A statement that the debt collector must provide the name and address of the original creditor upon written request

Depending on your circumstances, it may be beneficial to request written verification of the debt. If the debt is invalid, or if the debt collector can’t provide proof, they must stop contacting you until they can respond to your dispute. However, this can backfire if you’re 100% sure the debt is valid.

5. Ask Them to Stop Calling (if Necessary)

By law, debt collectors cannot harass you or lie when they try to collect a debt. They are forbidden from calling before 8AM or after 9PM, and they can’t call you at work if you ask them to stop. Whether or not the debt is valid, you can ask a debt collector to cease contact in writing. Once they receive that request, they are only allowed to contact you to verify that they will cease contact or to inform you they are taking a specific action like filing a lawsuit.

If the debt collector violates any of these rules, or if you just want them to stop calling, you have the right to cut off contact and they are legally bound to comply.

6. Decide What to Do Next

Oftentimes, it’s beneficial to dispute the debt and request validation, especially if you don’t believe it’s actually yours. Other times, it’s better to tell to tell the debt collectors to stop calling. If you’re positive the debt is valid, you may want to pay the debt collector or negotiate a better solution. The right option depends on your financial circumstances, the actions of the debt collector and whether or not the debt is valid.