There’s nothing more aggravating than having debt collectors hound you early in the morning when just waking up, at work or during dinner time with your family. The constant annoyance of your phone ringing from those pesky and persistent parasites are enough to either drive you insane or drop your head from the shame of being constantly reminded that you failed to pay back a debt.

These agencies are known to be intrusive, belittling, harassing and intimidating in their efforts to collect money. While the best way to get the collection hounds off your back is to simply pay back all your debts on time, financial hardships unfortunately can sometimes make this difficult if not impossible. So if you find yourself the target of a collection agency, remember that you have rights and you have options.

Make Sure the Company is Legitimate Before Paying any Money
In April 2017, reported that scams were up nearly 60% from the previous year. According to the site, an estimated one in every 10 American adults lost money in a phone scam just last year, with each scam victim losing $430, totaling about $9.5 billion overall. That was an increase of 56% from the 2015 survey, when victims on average lost $274 each.

Keep this in mind when a collection agency contacts you. There are scams where con artists pose as debt collectors to trick you into sending them money. Collection agencies are legally required to prove that you owe them money before you have to pay. So don’t pay them a dime before verifying who they are.

Collect All of the Agency’s Information
If a debt collector calls, write down the name of the collection agency, the name of the person speaking to you, and the amount owed. Do this every time you speak with an agency. Collectors must disclose all of this information to you according to federal law.

Keep all letters sent from the agency. Make copies of all letters that you send the agency, and send via certified mail and request to be notified when successfully delivered. This will scare off potential con artists and help your case should you wind up in court.

Record Conversations
Debt collectors will tell you almost anything to make you pay your debt, so it would be a good idea to record all telephone correspondence between you and the collection agency. Twelve states (California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington) require consent from all parties when recording telephone conversations.

Even in states where it is not required, it is a good idea to tell the collector that the call is being recorded, as they are less likely practice unscrupulous tactics.

Do Not Divulge Any Personal Information
Debt collectors may tell you that your personal information is required, but this just is not true. Do not divulge banking information or place of employment. Don’t even send a personal check because this provides them with your banking information.

Also, make sure all of your social media pages private and accessible to friends only, and don’t approve any friend requests from people you don’t know. If a debt collector finds your Facebook page or LinkedIn profile is public, your place of employment and other personal information may be used against you.

Try to Strike a Deal
A debt collector’s job is to collect as much money owned as possible, so at first contact, they’ll try to get you to pay the debt in full, but don’t be afraid to negotiate. Oftentimes, they are willing to take less. So start with a low number and offer to pay 10% of what is owed. They more than likely won’t accept the offer, so try to settle between 30% and 50% of the full debt.

Get Everything in Writing
After striking a deal with the collection agency, demand any agreement in writing and signed by a representative of the agency before sending any money. Keep a copy of the agreement just in case there’s a dispute regarding the arrangements

Learn the law
Collection agencies are regulated by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and several practices have been banned. Prepare yourself before dealing with debtors by researching the laws. These illegal practices include calling before 8 am or after 9 pm in your local time zone, using obscene or abusive language and threatening to take property or garnish your paycheck without going through the court system.