OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADebt collectors can be, uh, zealous in their pursuit of money owed. Stories of daily phone calls, threats, bothering friends and relatives, and late-night contacts abound. In some cases debt collectors have aggressively pursued ridiculously small amounts of money, and even gone after people who owe nothing at all.

The point is, there are limits to what these agencies can do to collect cash. In Ontario, the Collections Agencies Act lays out the boundaries that, when crossed, constitute illegal harassment.

For example, a debt collector can’t make any calls to a debtor until six days after mailing written notice with the name of the creditor, balance owing on the debt and the identity of the collection agency.

They are also not allowed to make calls on statutory holidays, on Sundays, except between the hours of 1 and 5 p.m., or on any other day of the week between the hours of 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. And they cannot contact the person more than three times in a seven-day period.

If a debt collector does get you on the phone, they cannot threaten you, swear at you, lie to you or harass you. They cannot seize your assets until they have won a court judgment. They can only contact your employer to get your employment information, unless your employer has guaranteed your debt or the call is about a legal action, such as garnisheeing your wages.

And they can only contact your family, friends, neighbours and acquaintances once to get your address and phone number, unless these people have guaranteed your loan or you have given permission for them to be contacted (in a contract, most likely).

Read more about your rights dealing with collection agencies here.  While it’s generally better to speak to a collection agency, rather than avoid them, to deal with the problem, you don’t have to talk to them if you don’t want to.

If they do harass you or threaten you or try to intimidate you in some way, they may be breaking law. You have the right to report them to the police or phone company, or file a complaint to the Ministry of Consumer Affairs.