Sometimes, your phone number gets associated with a loan you’ve never applied for. We can never be sure why it happens: Perhaps it was the debtor’s phone number before it was yours, or they invented what they thought was a fake number because they don’t own a phone, or maybe they’re just trying to hide their debts from the rest of their family because they’ve lost all of their money at a balloon-racing tournament.
So, they pluck any phone number for the application, or pen in the digits of their worst enemy, knowing that person will likely get harassed in the future. (We can all make up some pretty interesting fiction.) But what do you do if it’s your phone number that they’ve chosen, and your phone starts ringing for debts you don’t owe? (“No, really, it’s not my debt” might get a little redundant.)
We asked consumer attorney Troy Doucet of Doucet & Associates Co. in Columbus, Ohio, to weigh in on this one.
First, tell the debt collector that they’re calling the wrong number.
“If debt collectors are calling the wrong number, then they should stop upon notification,” said Doucet. But what if your phone doesn’t stop ringing and the same debt collector keeps calling you?
“If they do not stop calling, there is good argument under most state consumer protection laws that a violation has occurred,” said Doucet.
If you’re feeling so harassed that you want to contact a consumer lawyer, you might have a case, since continuing to dial your number could be a violation of The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, said Doucet. However, it could be tricky to argue that claim in court.
“If the person being called was totally innocent and the debt collector was not trying to collect from the person on the other end of the phone (e.g., the collector was looking for Jane and it was Bob’s phone), then it may be difficult to classify the person being called as a ‘consumer’ or the call being classified as collecting a ‘debt’ under the technical definitions of the FDCPA,” Doucet said.
But that doesn’t mean you’re without recourse.
“There may also be common law claim for ‘invasion of privacy’ if the calls don’t stop in some states,” said Doucet.
If the problem persists, you may want to consult a consumer attorney about your best recourse.
In the interim, it would be prudent to check your credit report to see if the debts they’re calling about actually do exist in your name. This could happen if someone has stolen your identity — or because you had a bill go to collections that you weren’t aware of. You can view your free credit report once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com or see a free snapshot of your credit report, updated every 14 days, for free on Credit.com.