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It’s happened to everyone. You get a call from a number you don’t know, and when you answer, it’s a debt collector asking to talk to a friend, family member or someone you’ve never even heard of.

This can add more stress if you’re already dealing with calls about your own old debts. But it’s also frustrating if you’re up-to-date on everything and don’t want to deal with debt collectors calling for someone else. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to get the calls to stop.

What to Do If Debt Collectors Are Calling for Someone Else

When debt collectors are calling for someone else, it’s tempting to just not answer numbers you don’t know and keep letting things roll to voicemail. But this probably isn’t the best long-term strategy and can leave you dealing with frequent calls for months or even years. To eliminate these calls, you need to figure out what’s legitimate and what’s a scam, keep good records and be prepared to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

1. Keep Records

Every time you get a debt collection call for someone else, make sure to note the number the person called from, the name of the collection agency and the person’s name. While the caller isn’t required to give you their name, they do have to give you the name of their employer under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. It’s also a good idea to write down the date and time of the call, so you have a record of the frequency if you need to pursue legal action for harassment.

2. Request That the Collector Not Call Again

While this may seem obvious, many people just hang up on debt collectors once they find out who’s calling. But simply asking them not to call again can go a long way. Make sure to tell them that they have the wrong number. If they call again after that, let them know if they continue calling, you’ll file a report with the Federal Trade Commission.

Can Debt Collectors Call Friends and Family?

Debt collectors are legally allowed to call your friends or family to try to locate you. But they cannot call these people to try to collect the payment for the debt, and they are only allowed to call once unless they believe there may be new information to be found. However, this requires the person to answer and tell the collector they aren’t the debtor.

If the collector is calling about a friend or family member who has passed away, you can inform the collector of this. You can also direct them to the executor of the estate if you have that information, although you don’t have to.

3. File a Complaint With the FTC

While the FDCPA defines a lot of what a collector can and cannot do, not all debt collectors follow these rules. If you’ve notified the collector that you are not the debtor and they keep calling, it may take filing a complaint with the FTC and possibly your state attorney general’s office to get them to stop.

4. Get Legal Help

While notifying the FTC and attorney general’s office is usually the last step, extreme cases may need legal action. If you don’t know if you have legal grounds for a harassment suit or can’t get the calls to stop, talking to a consumer law attorney may help.

5. Avoid Common Mistakes

Never give the debt collector your personal information. Sometimes scammers pose as debt collectors, and giving them this information can make you the victim of crimes like identity theft or credit card fraud. It’s also not a good idea to lose your temper or get angry. These calls can be frustrating. But keep in mind that person on the other end of the phone is just trying to do their job, and losing your temper isn’t helpful.

Knowing Your Rights

When a debt collector calls for someone else, there are guidelines from the FTC and the FDCPA that can help you understand your rights and how to handle these types of calls from debt collection. However, it’s important to note that there are different rights for consumers and non-consumers.

Generally, a consumer in these guidelines is someone who is legally obligated to pay the debt—so the debtor or a cosigner. If the call is for someone else and you are not legally on the hook for the debt, you won’t have all of the protections the FDCPA sets forth for consumers.

How Many Calls from a Debt Collector Is Considered Harassment?

If the debt is not yours, the collector is only supposed to call once in most circumstances. But if they call more than once, it still might not be enough for a harassment suit. The FDCPA defines harassing calls as repetitious and “intended to annoy, abuse or harass.”

It also defines calls that include profanity or threats of violence as harassment. If someone refuses to identify themselves, it could also count as harassment. When it comes to the number of calls, “repetitious” can be in the eye of the judge who gets your case. So, it’s best to consult an attorney before filing a suit to make sure you have grounds.

Exposing a Fake Debt Collector

If you think the debt collector calling you may be fake, you can generally weed out the scammers by asking them for the company’s name, phone number and address. Legitimate collectors will provide this under the FDCPA, but scammers are more likely to argue with you about why you need the information or just hang up.

Asking the collector to verify the name and address of the person they’re trying to reach can also help you figure out if it’s a legitimate call. But remember that you should never provide this information to the collector if they call to “verify,” which is a common scamming technique.

Is It Legal for Debt Collectors to Spoof Numbers?

Legally, debt collectors can spoof their phone numbers, but the FDCPA doesn’t allow them to hide their identity—such as when you ask what agency they are calling from. They also can’t spoof a number that would indicate they are from a law firm or any type of official government agency.

Tips for the Future

Of course, the best way to avoid calls from debt collectors is to always make sure you pay your debts on time. It’s also a good idea to avoid cosigning for friends or family who may not be able to pay the debt. If they stop making the payments, you’re on the hook for the debt and legitimate debt collection calls until the balance is paid.

If you’re wondering about how this could impact your credit score or what happens when a collection agency calls for someone else, the answer is not much. Unless the debt is being reported in your name in error on your credit report, nothing will happen to your score.

If you’re getting a lot of debt collection calls check your credit report to make sure there’s not something opened in your name you don’t know about. You can also check your credit via Credit.com’s Credit Report Card, which can help you know if someone opens up an account in your name or if you become the victim of identity theft.

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