If you’ve ever had an unpaid bill go to a collections agency, you know what a hassle they can be. These companies are paid according to the bills that they collect on – and they’ll often go extreme lengths to make that money.

As an example, I heard of one person who received a call from a debt collection agency who had the right name – but the client’s wrong address. The client had actually never lived at the address in question, or anything even close to that address. So he told the collection agency that they had the wrong person. The individual on the other end of the phone insisted that he did, but as the disagreement progressed, ended up yelling at the client and eventually hanging up the phone (or getting cut off, or something).

The client suspected it was a fraudulent call of some sort and, since he never heard from the collections agency again, he didn’t think anything of it. Until he went to apply for a mortgage – and realized that his credit score was terrible, thanks to an overdue utility bill that he had missed in his move from Vancouver to Toronto four years earlier. That must have been the charge that the debt collector was calling about – but he had never named the charge, the company or any other information aside from the debtor’s incorrect address.

The debt collection agency broke a number of rules in the above scenario. While the rules governing debt collection agencies vary from province to province, these are the basics you should be aware of:

1. A debt collections agency can only contact your home between a certain set of hours – usually 7am to 9pm.

2. Debt collections agencies can’t make more than three unsolicited phone calls in any period of seven consecutive days.

3. A collector must give you the name of his agency, the name of the creditor who is owed the money, and the balance of the bill. They can’t ask for more than what is owed, or request a form of payment that will end up costing you money.

4. In many cases, the collector must first send you a request for the funds in writing before they can initiate a telephone follow-up. If you haven’t received the original written request, they must send you another one – and hold off on phone calls for another five days.

5. A debt collector can’t threaten or harass you in any way.

For more information on your consumer rights when it comes to debt collecting, visit your province’s local Consumer Protection Offices, or the Consumers’ Association of Canada http://www.consumer.ca/1653