Stop Collection Calls to a Wrong Number:
Three More Ways
February 22
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stop wrong number collection calls by Pete Low

Last time I talked about some ways to get a debt collector to stop calling your wrong number. Here are some more, all using the FDCPA (Fair Dept Collection Practices Act). The FDCPA is a federal law so it's the same nationwide, but it only applies to collection agencies. If the caller is the original creditor (like the bank or store or whatever who loaned you the money originally), state laws would apply, so ask your state attorney general's office what similar laws are available to you.

Get the Company's Address

These options will depend on mailing a certified letter, so get the debt collector's name and address. First step: Just ask. Say, "May I have your company name and mailing address. I need to mail you something." By law, they're supposed to tell you. You might get lucky. Make sure it's the information of the collection agency who's actually calling, and not the name of the original creditor.

If that doesn't work, or if you can't even get to a live person, search online for the number on your caller ID. I don't mean reverse look-ups in the white pages (though that's worth a try), I mean just googling the number. If you're being harassed, other people probably are too, and may have already done the leg-work. You may find not only the company contact information online, but even success stories of what worked to get them to stop calling.

If that doesn't work and there's no human on the line, you can try calling back (if it's a hang-up call) or if it's a recorded call, punching numbers to see if a human comes on the line.

Obviously don't punch in any real information in response to auto requests, like a partial social security number. There's some risk in calling an unknown number, as this may indicate to the auto-dialer that it's reached a real person and it'll try even harder to call you in the future, but if you've already been harassed with calls, what have you got to lose?

If you can get through to a real human, try the supervisor step from last time, or try at least to get a mailing address.

Never give out any more information about yourself beyond what they already have. Who knows--the whole thing might be a scam to steal your identity and not a debt collector at all. You never know what shady operation might be behind the calls.

FDCPA Option #1: Validation

The FDCPA says a debt collector must send you validation of a debt in writing or they can't contact you anymore. Sometimes people recommend this for wrong number harassment. I don't think it's really helpful. You can write the company a certified letter demanding validation, but what if they send it? You'll be right back to trying to prove you're not that Jane Smith and they'll be calling again. Still, there's always the slim chance they won't reply and will quit calling.

FDCPA Option #2: No Contact Request

Legally, I'm not sure if this would even apply, but it's worth a shot. The FDCPA says that you can request a debt collector stop contacting you, but that's if you actually owe a debt. Not sure how it would apply if you're not even the one who owes. But what the heck. Here's how to do it, but in this case, include a sentence in the letter stating that you're not the right person, it's a wrong number, the person no longer lives at this address and you don't know their whereabouts, or whatever the situation is. Make sure you don't accidentally admit to owing the debt.

FDCPA Option #3: The Big Guns

  • A debt collector harassing you at a wrong number may be violating several provisions in the FDCPA, including these:
  • 805(b) This says that a debt collector can't talk with a third person about somebody else's debt, so it's a violation if the collector believes you're not the debtor but says something like, "I know you know where he is, so tell him he'd better pay up."
  • 804 According to this section, it's also a violation for the debt collector to refuse to state his or her employer if asked.
  • 806(5) "Causing a telephone to ring or engaging any person in telephone conversation repeatedly or continuously with intent to annoy, abuse, or harass any person at the called number" is a violation.
  • 804 (3) If you say there's no Jane Smith at this number and you don't know where she is, a debt collector can't call you more than once, unless he believes that what you said before "is erroneous or incomplete" and that you now know where Jane Smith is. If there really is no Jane Smith here and you said so, good luck for the debt collector to prove that.

For every violation of the FDCPA, a debt collector can be sued for maximum damages of $1,000 plus attorney's fees. You have a choice: small claims court and do it yourself, or get iron-clad evidence and find an attorney who'll do it on contingency. That means you'll only pay court costs if you lose (no attorney fee), but you'll get something if you win. The big deal here isn't the $1,000 fine, it's scaring the company because they'll have to pay an attorney to defend themselves and pay your attorney when they lose.

Keep careful notes of all calls, and see what the phone-recording laws are in your state and record the calls in a legally-admissable way. Their only defense is if the calls are "not intentional and resulted from a bona fide error notwithstanding the maintenance of procedures reasonably adapted to avoid any such error." FDCPA 813(c) Yeah, like they just unintentionally dial your number three times a day.

Look for a lawyer who specializes in this kind of thing here. (Click debt collection > not my debt.)

Good luck. Sheesh, those debt collectors can be annoying.

Previous Post: Stop Collection Calls to a Wrong Number--Six Things to Try

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2 Comments

Anonymous

Anonymous
10:22 p.m. February 22
You'd think that having an unusual name would save you from mistaken identity, but it only makes it worse. I have a friend with a weird name whos gotten caught up in bill collectors calling, and they're absolutely convinced he's lying and that he must be the Oscar Q. Finkelstein that they want (not his real name) because he's the only one in the phone book anywhere. Apparently his twin with bad debt has an unlisted number or something.

East Virginia

East Virginia
11:31 p.m. February 22
i got a new cell phone last month and the calls started right away. I just said it was a wrong number for a while but they wouldn't stop. Finally talking to a supervisor did it, at least for now. keeping my fingers crossed.

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