ORLANDO,Fla. -

April is National Financial Literacy month and a great time for Florida consumers to be aware of their options if contacted by a debt collector about "a delinquent or defaulted account."

“While no one really wants to get a call or letter telling them they owe money, consumers need to know they are not alone,” Florida Collectors Association President James Welborn said. “Each year, for many very legitimate and often unavoidable reasons, millions of consumers fall behind on payments and are contacted by a debt collector.”

The Florida Collectors Association offers tips for Florida consumers to help handle those dreaded "third-party debt collector" phone calls. According to the Florida Collectors Association a third-party debt collector is "unique in that they are service provider hired by the owner of the debt (i.e., a creditor or debt buyer) to recover a rightfully owed debt on their behalf."

Consumers have rights under federal and state law.

By law, consumers cannot be harassed, threatened or be subjected to profanity and vulgar language.

Consumers need to remember:

  • Avoiding a debt collector's letter or call won’t make the debt disappear.
  • Ask for Identification. Debt collectors cannot call anonymously nor present themselves as being a representative of a government entity or threaten legal action.
  • You  can challenge the validity of the debt. The collector must inform you of your right to dispute the debt and provide written verification if you dispute it in writing. All collection activity stops until this verification is provided.
  • Protect Your Identity. Do not confirm or provide sensitive personal information until certain of the authenticity of the caller. Check out whether the collector is a legitimate agency by using the Internet to search the company name or visit www.acainternational.org.

This is tax time: If you believe your identity has been stolen, contact your local police department and visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft for information on what you should do.