Debt collector calls are bad enough if you actually owe money, but what if a debt collector is harassing you and it's the wrong number? Or they're calling about somebody you don't know how to reach anymore, like a former room-mate who moved out?
You've got several ways to stop this. In fact, I need to split this article up into two posts because it's too long for one, so I'll put some of the options below, and the rest next time.
First, which I'm sure you've already done, is explain: It's a wrong number. Nobody lives here by that name. You don't know the person's location. Whatever. Then tell them not to call again.
Obviously, that didn't work this time or you wouldn't be reading this, so I won't even count that as one of the ways, though sometimes it does work.
Here's the problem: Debt collectors don't want to spend time harassing wrong numbers, because it wastes time that they could spend collecting debts. But they also get lied to a lot, so sometimes it pays them to ignore the "wrong number" trick and keep the pressure on, unless you can finally convince them you really aren't the one with the bad debt.
But even then, a lot of bill collection companies operate with automatic dialing systems, so once your number is "in the computer" under somebody else's bad debt, the next time the auto dialer goes in motion on that account, it'll call you up again, without a human being even touching the keypad. Even worse, if you get your number taken out of one company's dialer, they may later sell the debt, and if your number appeared by mistake somewhere on the paperwork that goes with the debt, the new bill collector will enter it into their computer, and the dialing will start again.
But darn it, you have the right to live without being harassed because some other person that you don't even know, skipped out on a debt.
So here are some ways to attack the problem, and next time, I'll list ways to haul out the big guns by using the FDCPA (Fair Debt Collection Practices Act).
Check your Credit Reports
No matter what route you take, check your credit reports at Experian, Equifax and TransUnion and make sure the debt hasn't also been reported to them in error. If it has, dispute it with the credit bureau to get it taken off your report. If you see other debts on their that you don't recognize, you may have a bigger problem with identity theft.
But back to getting the calls to stop. What works with one collector might not with another, but hopefully one of these will do the trick.
Talk to a Supervisor
Tell the caller once again that it's a wrong number, then mention in your sweetest voice that there's a problem with an FDCPA violation and before you begin to register a complaint and begin a suit, you'd like to speak to a supervisor to see if the problem can be resolved.
People hiding from debt collectors act scared and defensive, so don't do that. Be confident and business-like. Obviously, the underlings haven't been helping you, but if you can get a supervisor on the line, explain the problem once more, mention FDCPA violations again, and say that you want the calls to stop and your phone number removed from this account because you have no connection to the person who contracted this debt. Best case: the supervisor will get the employees to stop wasting company resources on you. Worst case: he or she will laugh at you. If you can't get to a higher supervisor, pick another approach.
Block their Number
See if your phone company offers a number blocking service. You can also talk to your phone company about how to deal with harassing calls or repeated calls to a wrong number, in case they have some special assistance. If it's a new phone number you were just assigned and you don't care if it's changed, ask to be reassigned another one that hopefully didn't belong to a dead-beat.
Ask to be on the Do-Not-Call List
Unfortunately, just reminding the debt collector that you're on the national "do not call" registry won't help. It doesn't apply here and they know it. If you did owe the money, you have an "existing business relationship" so they could call anyway. Since you don't owe the money, they're not trying to "solicit sales of goods or services," so it still doesn't apply.
However, the good news is that you can ask to be put on their individual "do not call" list. The FTC says, "If you have asked them to stop calling, please keep a record of the date you made the request and include that information in the comment section of any complaint you submit against that company." You can submit a complaint here. This probably won't get the calls to stop, but it can't hurt.
Complain to the FCC
It won't do any good for you personally, but it'll make you feel better. Use this online form. If the FCC gets enough complaints about the company, they might do something.
Contact your State's Attorney General
This might be really helpful, or not so much, depending. Harassing you is illegal, but attorney generals are busy. Your state's attorney general's office might roll up their sleeves and get to work to help you personally, or they might at least be able to suggest where else you could turn for help. Click on the map here to find contact information. If your state attorney general can't help but you like the legal route, see the post next time about the FDCPA, because you'll love that.
You can read on the internet how people like to extract revenge. They blow air horns into the phone, or play all kinds of practical jokes. If the calls aren't a big annoyance, have fun, but keep in mind that 1) this may convince the debt collector that you really are the Droid he's looking for since you're not denying the debt, and 2) if you run into a debt collector who wants to play games back, he can probably step outside the law and play hardball a lot harder than you.
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11:34 p.m. February 19
These guys are unbelievable. I keep getting calls for Heather somebody. The first time it happened, I said I didn't know anybody by that name, and got a couple other calls that week, then nothing for months. Then it started up with hang-up calls, nobody there, and then calls again for Heather.
6:42 a.m. February 20
Those hang-up calls are the automatic dialers. They're supposed to transfer to a person as soon as somebody answers, but they don't always. That's illegal too, for telemarketers at least, don't know about collection agencies, but more than a few missed calls and it's illegal.
8:55 p.m. February 20
What can you do with the FDCPA?
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