Home > Managing Debt > Help! Debt Collectors Are Calling My Relatives

Comments 5 Comments

It’s stressful enough when you are getting calls from collectors. But what do you do when they are calling your relatives about your debt? A reader asks:

I have been receiving weird calls from 1-888??? numbers and recently they stopped and have been appearing as “unknown” on my iPhone. They left me a message saying something about court and I should call them as soon as possible. I deleted the message so I don’t remember exactly what it said. So last night my mom came back from work and told me that that my aunt told her that they called her at her house asking about me. They scared my aunt and now we are all scared. My mom is going to call them tomorrow. I’m kind of afraid because my mom is a very gullible woman. She won’t let me call them because I’m 19. I have had a loan for school but it was through financial aid and it was the kind that I don’t have to pay until I graduate from school. I don’t understand how they got my aunt’s phone number? How did they get my number in the first place? I am so confused.

It’s hard to tell what’s going on but the first thing you need to do is talk with this collector. It could be a legitimate account you aren’t aware you owe, your name could be mixed up with that of someone else, or it could be a debt collection scam. Based on several things you are saying here, I suspect the latter, but I can’t say for certain without more information.

When you talk with the debt collector, your goal should be to find out what debt they are calling about, and to get them to send you something in writing. Under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, you are entitled to written verification of the debt. If the collector says they don’t have to send you anything in writing then that’s one clue that this is likely a scam. I don’t recommend you agree to pay anything until you verify the debt is legitimate and that the collection agency is legitimate. That’s why you want to get written verification of the debt.

It also concerns me that the collector is leaving messages about taking you to court. It could be a sign that this is either a very aggressive collection agency or that you are dealing with a scammer. Under federal law, collectors may not threaten to take action they cannot take or don’t intend to take. So threatening to take you to court before they have even verified that they are calling the right person is a sign that something isn’t right.

If the collector tells you (or your family members) that you will be arrested if you don’t pay right away, then you are very likely the target of a fake debt collection scam. And if they tell you that they have taken you to court, my colleague Steve Rhode at Getoutofdebt.org has a good suggestion for how to respond. Ask them for the name of the court and the case number. Then call the court to verify it. Again, chances are they won’t have that information, and they are just making it up to try to scare you into paying.

As far as calling your family members go, collectors are only allowed to call others to locate you. Once they have located you they are no longer allowed to call your relatives unless they cosigned for you. And even if they are just trying to locate you, they shouldn’t discuss any details of your debt with others. By the way, it’s not that hard for collectors to find your relatives. You may have listed their names and contact information on loan applications, or they can use “skip tracing” services to gather that information.

Again, it’s hard to say for sure what’s happening here but don’t be scared or intimidated. Talk with them, find out what they have to say, and don’t make payments until they send you something in writing. If the collection agency does verify the debt and it turns out to be legitimate, then you can explore your options for resolving it.

But it may not even come to that.

Image: Matt Reinbold, via Flickr

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.

  • Ricky Tapp

    My mom got a call from a blocked number. They didn’t say who it was or their number. They said that if she didn’t take care of the debt that she will be getting papers served on her Monday. (it’s Thursday now) They also called my brother which lives next door to us. That should be illegal. I’m worried. My mom is 85 and owns nothing and has no money. What can she do? What can i do?

    • Jeanine Skowronski

      Some of those actions sound like potential FDCPA violations: For instance, debt collectors can’t use abusive language, they can’t threaten to sue if they don’t intend to, they can’t contact relatives and identify themselves as debt collectors (they can only ask for location information). The first step should involve verifying whether the debt is legitimate or not. (Sometimes old bills go to collections that the consumer may not be aware of.) There could be a scammer on the other end of the line or it could be a debt collector stepping out of bounds.

      If they call again, ask for written verification of the debt. In fact, this should have been provided already, given debt collectors are required by law to send it via mail 5 days after initial contact. You can also ask for the company name and contact information and do a quick search online to see what pops up. In the meantime, your mother can pull her credit reports to see if a debt is appearing there. (Note: its absence doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not a legitimate debt, but its appearance will give you more information. And, if it’s a mistake or inaccurate, your mother will want to dispute it.)

      If you determine it’s a scammer, you should report the call to your state AG or the CFPB. If it turns out to be a legitimate debt, you can contact a consumer attorney to see if you have a claim under FDCPA. Some do free consultations. You can also request in writing that the collector stop calling (another FDCPA stipulation.) That won’t mean the debt is no longer owed, but it should stop the phone calls while you sort it all out.

      More here:





  • Monika

    My husband gets calls from I’m assuming a debt collector. They call him multiple times a day at least 3 days a week. They called me a couple times until I told them to stop calling. My husband just lets it go to voicemail. Is it legal for them to call that much? It really feels like harassment.

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      There is no set number of calls that is considered harassment – that’s usually up to a court or judge to decide. Do you think it’s possible he owes this debt? If so he may want to talk with them, ask them to put it in writing (which they must do under federal law) and then proceed from there.

  • Jim

    I have a company National Settlement Adjusters that called my mother in law searching for me but he threatened her with bank fraud and jail time for not giving him my where abouts or paying my debt, she has major heart problems. I have never to date ever heard from these people about anything.

  • Pingback: Spanish debt crisis: 'fear of a bank freeze is palpable' - Get Out of Debt - Debt Advice()

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