Some of the callers are polite and tell her they will remove her number from their records. In other cases, the call is a recorded message and it’s impossible to speak to someone unless she chooses the recorded option, “Press 1 if you are (the debtor).”
One particularly frustrating series of calls came from a collector who was trying to collect a small debt—just under $12—for Blockbuster. The recorded message left no option other than to pay the debt by phone. After several attempts to stop the calls, I finally contacted Blockbuster’s public relations department. Someone there put me in touch with the collection agency, who then assured me they would change their answering system to include an option to tell the collector they have the wrong person.
[Infographic: What to do if a Debt Collector Calls]
I know my daughter isn’t alone on this. When my sister moved a couple of years ago, and got a new phone number, she received so many calls from collectors for the phone number’s previous owner that she finally ended up canceling that number and getting a new one.
So what can you do if, like my daughter or sister, you are getting debt collection calls for someone else? I spoke with two attorneys to find out. Cindy Salvo is a partner in The Salvo Law Firm and her clients are debt collectors. I also spoke with Brandon Block, a consumer attorney in private practice in California. He represents consumers in debt collection cases.
What rights do consumers have if they are getting calls from a debt collector for someone else?
Salvo says, “My clients are really trying to just collect debts from people who owe them. There’s no benefit to them to keep calling the wrong person. If you tell them, they will stop.” She recommends trying to get someone on the phone and asking them to remove your number from their records.
But what if that doesn’t work? Block explains that many of the rights provided by the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act are afforded to “any person,” and not just the person who owes the debt. If the collector is calling about a debt that belongs to someone else, the person receiving the calls can sue for actual damages, statutory damages and his or her attorney’s fees.
He also points out that state laws may provide additional rights. In California, for example, the recipient of the calls may be able to sue the debt collector and original creditor under California’s Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
Salvo has another suggestion: ask the debt collector for the company’s fax number or email address. “If the calls don’t stop right away, the person being called can email or fax the collector the first page of their phone bill—showing the phone number the collector just called, and the name of the person on the bill (not the debtor). That could be very convincing.”