Are you being hounded by collection agencies left and right? There’s a good chance they’re breaking the law. The law is very specific about what debt collection agencies can and cannot do, and today we’re going to talk about how to beat them at their own game.

First, establish that the only contact you will have with these collection agencies will be in writing, through the mail. If the first contact a collection agency makes with you is on the phone, you can verify your name, but do not give them personal details like your birth date or social security number. Tell them you will not communicate any further over the phone, and that if they want to talk with you they will need to put it in writing, in the mail.

Once you’ve received a letter from them notifying you of the debt, it’s time to do battle. Right away, respond with a letter disputing the alleged debt and asking for validation. We call it an “alleged debt” because they will need to prove that it exists and that you owe it to them. Your letter should specifically ask them to validate the debt, which is doing more than the bare minimum of “verifying” the debt. They will need to provide all the documentation to support their claim that you owe them money.

You are asking for—and entitled to receive—a copy of the contract that shows your agreement to do business with them. This contract should name them as the creditor and show that they lent you money. It should also have your signature, agreeing to pay them back what they lent you. A contract between you and a creditor is not the same thing as a contract between you and a third party debt collector. So of course, they will not have a contract with you because you never signed one.

You will also need to ask them to show proof that they have been authorized to collect on the debt. This means the original creditor has given them permission to go after it. Sometimes they will send you a copy of the paperwork, but it doesn’t happen often. Even when it does, this in itself is not full validation.

Another thing you will ask them to provide is a full record of accounting. This should go back more than three years (if the debt is that old), and show every single charge, fee, interest charge, and payment on the account. Since they furnished information about you to the credit reporting bureaus, they will also need to show that you gave permission to do that in writing. This is something they won’t be able to provide, and means they have to stop attempting to collect.

Ask for proof that the alleged debt is still within your state’s statute of limitations. You are also entitled to full documentation showing every time the debt changed hands and the proof that it was assigned to each collector. You can even ask them to provide documentation showing how much they paid for the debt, because this is much closer to the number they should be trying to collect from you rather than some exorbitant amount.

Now, send the letter.

After doing this, wait a week or two. Then, write to each of the major credit reporting bureaus disputing the account in collections. This is important, because once you send an initial letter to the collection agency demanding validation, they are legally required to stop all collection activity. Checking in with the credit bureaus is considered “collection activity,” and if they do it, they’ve already broken the law.

Next, it’s time to wait for the debt collector’s response to your letter. Oftentimes, they will send you tiny snippets of the information you requested and try to say the debt is validated. This is not the case, and is still not proof you owe them money. Before you respond back to them, you’ll want to wait for the result of your dispute with the credit bureau.

Many collection agencies will respond to the bureau dispute by claiming the debt has been verified. They are not allowed to do this! This will be very effective in winning your case against them.

Once you’ve received the results of your dispute with the credit bureau, it’s time to contact the collectors once again. For those that claimed the debt was “verified,” it’s time to get tough. Write them back acknowledging that you received their response claiming they verified the debt. But call them out for the documentation they failed to provide. Where is the contract between you and them? Where is the documentation for every transaction on your account? Where is the proof of the statute of limitations?

Also advise them that since you never agreed to a contract with them, they are violating the FDCPA by continuing collection activity and the FCRA by furnishing information to the credit bureaus without explicit permission from you. Ask them to remove their claim from your report immediately. You can even threaten to take them to court for violating the FDCPA and the PCRA. That’s serious business.

Some creditors will pull their claim immediately, but others will be stubborn and continue to leave their claim on your report. Continue sending them letters month after month until you wear them down. There are laws written to protect you from debt collectors, and you are entitled to all of the aforementioned documentation (which they cannot provide). Don’t give your money to illegitimate debt collectors! Using the process outlined above, you can take matters into your own hands and get your credit report cleaned up once and for all.