Help! Someone Keeps Giving My Phone Number to Debt Collectors

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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.

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How to Get a Debt Collector to Stop Calling

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If money is tight right now and you’ve fallen behind on your bills, you’re likely feeling a lot of stress. And if you’re getting frequent phone calls from a persistent debt collector on top of it all, your stress may be amplified.

There are a few things you can do to get the debt collector to stop calling you, however, just make sure you keep in mind that stopping a debt collector from contacting you doesn’t absolve you from your debt.

Attempt to Resolve the Problem

Attorney Colin Hector recommends trying to settle the matter the collector is calling you about.

“See if you can resolve it – even if you don’t think you owe the debt, can’t repay it immediately, or think that the collector is contacting you by mistake,” according to an article Hector wrote for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) earlier this year.

Request They Stop Calling

Once you’ve spoken with your collector and established what they are calling about, you may decide you don’t want them to contact you again. If this is the case, you need to let them know, which you should do in writing.

“The law requires a written letter asking for the communication to stop,” Troy Doucet, a consumer law attorney in Dublin, Ohio, said in an email. “A verbal request is not enough, unless it is to inform the debt collector that counsel has been retained. If a lawyer has been retained, then the debt collector must stop calling.”

You want to send the original letter to the collector, but it’s a good idea to make a copy for your files as well. You may also want to consider sending the letter by certified mail and get a return receipt so you can have documentation that they received your request.

It is illegal for a collector to contact you again after receiving your request, unless they are letting you know they won’t be contacting you again or that they are taking a different kind of action (like filing a lawsuit, for example).

Again, just because the calls stop, doesn’t mean you are cleared of your debts.

Understand Your Rights

As a consumer, you have rights that protect you from being hassled by a debt collector. Even if the calls are coming from a legitimate collection company, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is in place to protect you from letting these calls disrupt your life.

“A debt collector cannot lie, cheat or force a consumer to pay their debts,” Doucet said. “Doing any of those things, even if the violation is technical, can lead to a violation of federal law governing debt collectors.”

For example, the FDCPA bans repeated or continuous phone calls from debt collectors and they aren’t allowed to call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., which are seen as times that are typically inconvenient. If a collector is calling your friends, family, employers or any other third party to discuss your debt, they are also in violation of the FDCPA. And threats or verbal abuse are a definite no-no. (There are even times when you can sue a debt collector, which you can read about in this guide.)

How Debt Affects Your Credit

Collection accounts can have a major impact on your credit scores. If you’re concerned about how your debt could be affecting your credit, you can request a free copy of your credit reports once each year by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. (You can also see two of your credit scores for free, updated each month, on Credit.com if you want to monitor your credit more frequently.)

Even after your debts are paid back, it’s a good idea to review your reports for any problems or errors, as these could also be impacting your credit scores. If you do discover something that doesn’t look right, whether a misspelling or an account you don’t recognize, you can dispute these problems with the credit bureaus.

[Offer: If you need help fixing errors on your credit report, Lexington Law could help you meet your goals. Learn more about them here or call them at (844) 346-3296 for a free consultation.]

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