Home > Managing Debt > Debt Collectors Think I’m Someone Else. How Do I Get Them to Stop Calling?

Comments 0 Comments

One out of three U.S. consumers has a debt in collections, but it often seems, based on news reports social media accounts, like many more have received a debt collection call recently. That suggests a lot of people are getting calls when they shouldn’t. What can you do if a debt collector is bothering you over a mistake?

With 77 million people owing a debt, according to the Urban Institute, there’s a lot of debt collectors making a lot of calls. Sometimes, those calls target the wrong people. There are plenty of reasons this might happen. Perhaps the debt has already been paid, but the consumer has not been properly credited. Perhaps identity theft is to blame. Sometimes, there’s an honest mistake — fat fingers, perhaps — that attaches an incorrect phone number to a debtor’s account.

A particularly pernicious wrong-consumer problem involves recycled phone numbers. Just like every other dwindling natural resource, America is running out of phone numbers, meaning telephone companies end up re-issuing old ones. A Federal Communications Commission study from 2011 says 37 million numbers were recycled annually, a huge jump from a decade earlier, due to the increased number of devices with numbers that consumers have.

But recycled numbers naturally end up causing problems when the new number holder gets calls intended for its prior user. Alicia Figluizzi, 34, suspected recycled numbers were the problem when she was hit by a flurry of debt collector calls last year. (Credit.com chronicled her story).

“I explain to the collectors that, ‘If I was her, do you think I would be answering the phone?’ They say, ‘Sorry … blah blah,’ ” she told us. “But then three hours later, same company calls again. All day long. For weeks. Thankfully some have learned that I am in fact not the person they are looking for, and that, no, I do not know how to reach that person. It’s mindboggling.”

How Can I Make It Stop? 

No matter the reason, wrong-number debt collector calls are a real hassle. So how can you stop them? There’s no fool-proof method, because some callers break the rules, but here are suggestions, even for dealing with law-breakers.

1. Don’t Ignore the Call

Plenty of consumers owe a debt and don’t realize it. Even a small debt could cause you a big problem when you try to obtain credit. If you get a call from a debt collector, get all the details. (You should also check your credit to see if the debt is appearing on your credit report and affecting your credit score. You can get your free annual credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com and see you credit scores for free each month on Credit.com.) Even if the company involved sounds unfamiliar, pay attention. That could be the result of a name change, or a debt that’s been sold, or identity theft. This leads to tip No. 2.

2. Write a Letter (Really)

You want to get all the details you can about why the debt collector thinks he or she is calling you. It’s best to formalize the process. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has excellent sample letters on its website for dealing with these issues. It’s a good idea to send a “stop contacting me” letter to the collector, but include in the note a demand for more information, like this: “I do not have any responsibility for the debt you’re trying to collect. If you have good reason to believe that I am responsible for this debt, mail me the documents that make you believe that. Stop all other communication with me and with this address, and record that I dispute having any obligation for this debt.” (The form letter at the CFPB website includes additional language you should include, so be sure to check it out). You can send the letter return receipt requested and keep copies of everything.

3. Invoke Your Rights

Your letter triggers additional rights you have. If a debt collector keeps contacting you after receiving a demand to stop, you may be able to sue for damages — potentially $500 per phone call. Both the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act create rights for consumers to receive penalty awards if unwanted phone calls don’t stop. If you get another unwanted contact after you’ve sent a “stop calling me” letter, don’t be afraid to tell the caller you know your rights under the law. That’s often enough to get them to back off.

4. Tell the Authorities

Of course, not all parties play by the rules. Some debt callers won’t give you their address. Some will spoof their phone numbers. Some will resell your debt even after you’ve disputed it. Some really do intimidate consumers and convince them to pay debts they don’t how just to stop the harassment. The moment you get a sense that a collector isn’t playing fair, you can complain to your state’s attorney general. You should also complain to the CFPB, which offers a simple Web-based form for filing your complaint. You could also consider contacting your local Better Business Bureau. (some consumers say they have luck with that – but if your harasser isn’t obeying the law, he or she may not fear a BBB complaint, either.)

More on Managing Debt:

Image: AntonioGuillem

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Credit.com receives compensation for the financial products and services advertised on this site if our users apply for and sign up for any of them.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team