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Harassed About a Debt You Don’t Owe? 5 Ways to Fight Back

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Like many people these days, Credit.com reader E.D. is receiving phone calls from collections agents. Unlike many readers, however, E.D. is certain that the debt doesn’t exist. The callers say they are representing Capital One, but E.D. has never received a loan or a credit card from the bank.

“I spoke with them over a week ago and asked them not to call me anymore because I don’t even have a Capital One card,” E.D. wrote in a recent comment to our website.

But there are indicators that the callers have little to do with Capital One: Their unprofessional, potentially illegal behavior. The phone calls keep coming, even after E.D. complained and a representative of the company said that E.D.’s name and phone number had been removed from their call list.

Also fishy: The callers refuse to let E.D. speak to a manager. And when E.D. demands to know why they are still calling, the callers hang up.

“I’m annoyed and pretty sure it’s not legal to call a random person over 8 times a day and hang up,” E.D. writes. “What should I do?”

It sounds like E.D. is the victim of a scam. But even if the calls are coming from a legitimate collections company, it appears they are breaking the law, since the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act bans repeated or continuous phone calls, as Credit.com reported.

“I would suggest you talk with a consumer law attorney who takes on Fair Debt Collection Practices cases,” says Gerri Detweiler, Credit.com’s consumer credit expert. “If they are breaking the law, the attorney may take your case for free.”

There are other steps E.D. and others can take to stop harassing phone calls from debt collectors regarding debts they don’t owe. Whether the callers are scammers, or legitimate collections agents whose records contain errors, there is no reason for innocent consumers to accept such harassing calls.

“You’ve got rights, and lots of them,” Lucy Lazarony wrote for Credit.com.

  1. Sue. Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, consumers who receive persistent phone calls regarding debts they do not owe have the right to sue for actual damages, statutory damages and his or her attorney’s fees, Detweiler says. Residents of different states may have additional rights. In California, victims of persistent, erroneous phone calls can also sue the original creditor.
  2. Fax. Ask the collections agents for their fax number, and fax the company a copy of your phone bill, showing their incoming calls and your name at the top. If the company is legitimate (and not a bunch of scammers), this should prove to them that they are calling the wrong person.
  3. Ignore. If the callers are scammers and not legitimate debt collection agents, then E.D. can change tactics. The first step is to try to ignore them. Block their calls. Hang up on them. “They are effective because people want to converse about the debt and prove they did not owe a payday loan debt,” says Mark Fullbright, senior fraud investigator with Identity Theft 911. “Do not provide anything to them.”
  4. Know Your Rights. Consumers have many protections under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Debt collectors are barred from calling early in the morning or late at night. They can’t call you at your workplace if you ask them not to, and they cannot tell friends, neighbors or co-workers about debts. For a full list of protections under the act, see this story by Credit.com.
  5. Fight. If it’s legal to record a phone conversation in your state without the other party’s consent, do it. If not, take detailed notes of your conversations. Use that to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, your state attorney general and the Better Business Bureau. These entities do not have the resources to investigate every complaint. But they do rely on individual reports to track trends and possibly sue large-scale offenders. Also, the next time the collectors call, you can say you’ve already reported them to the authorities, and that you are recording or taking notes on everything they say from now on.

Image: KB35, via Flickr

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  • shari

    what do you do when bill collectors call for in laws? my brother- in law doesn’t like to pay his bills, so they call US! we don’t talk to this in law very much and it gets really annoying. we have told them to stop calling us, this isn’t really any of our business, but they still call. what can we do?

  • Bob Swasey

    My problem is with Home Depot/City Bank. I used the credit card as a revolving payment, and paid off or most of the monthly balalce. My wife didn’t know when and how much I had charged she would just pay the bill when it came. For some five months we received no bill, and she thought I had charged nothing. Five months later we got a call from City bank and were informed that we didn’t pay our bill. My wife immeditaly payed the bill including the fines. We later found that our credit card was cancled and a negative credit report was filed. They say that their files indicate that we didn’t pay our bill and due to the credit laws they are correct. My files indicate that they didn’t send a bill as they had been doing for some years. How does one fight someone as large as Citi bank? I would like to have my credit report restored.

  • Ada

    What can I do when i receive invoice from the hospital for a charge for a doctor never been there and i never authorize for another doctor beside my Sergent to do my surgery , they even get paid from my insurance company , and they coming after me for the different ?
    Even before the Surgery i met with my doctor who preform my surgery and never indicated to me she have assistant, i don’t want to have trabol with my doctor since she is very good and professional but i never met this doctor the hospital indicate she was there and i ask the hospital why she was there , and who approve her to be there there is no reply beside they want money for her assistant in my surgery , can you help

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  • bongo

    MACKLO LAW OFFICE of COTTAGE GROVE, MN said I owed US BANK $955.66 in September. I paid $800.66 in a check (that cleared) in September. Then I paid an additional $180.25 in October because they claimed there’s a $25 processing fee + remaining balance of what I owed. Well it’s now 12/31/12 (I paid on 10/26/12 the remaining balance), and they’re claiming I owe another *$175.00*, no joke! They don’t have a fax number on their “threat” letter but I have 2 proofs of purchase right here in front of me I can send these people, plus they never sent me a new letter telling me why I owe an additional $175.00, orginally the lawyer lied to me and said *once you pay it we’ll send you a letter* as in a receipt. They never did. I’m furious, threatening me on a debt I paid. I even called my credit card company who paid the $180.25 and they said that it was paid on 11/26/12…so MR. RICHARD MACKLOW LAW OFFICE clearly scams people out of more money. who can I contact?

  • Cmaxon

    I don’t see that ANY of the above people received answers for their questions/issues. This concerns me enough to not want to bother seeking advice from this site.

    • Melissa Heltzel

      Cmaxon –

      Thank you for calling this to our attention! While our experts carefully monitor blog comments, occasionally some questions get past us. The best way to get your questions answered is to post them in the Credit.com forum – http://forum.credit.com/.

      Melissa Heltzel
      Managing Editor, Credit.com

  • Tina

    I have been getting phone calls from an “UNKNOWN” number and when I answer, they claim they are trying to collect a debt for over $2,000.00 from Capital One National bank from 2002. I have great credit, nothing in collections, 100% on time payments. I check my credit once a month. I did open a Capital One credit card a year & 1/2 ago and have opened 2 other credit cards in the past few months as well however I have never had a Capital One credit card until 2010. I read online that there are people impostering they work for Capital One National bank and trying to collect bogus collections. What should I do?

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

    You have two choices, John. You can talk with a consumer law attorney who can help you fight this or you can represent yourself in court pro se. I can’t advise you on which way to go but it wouldn’t hurt for you to talk with a consumer law attorney to find out what would be involved if you decide to get legal representation. If you need help finding an attorney, visit the website of the the National Association of Consumer Advocates website.

    Whatever you do, don’t fail to appear in court. Learn about the procedures at your local courthouse and get there early on the scheduled date. If you fail to show up the creditor will get a default judgment against you and that’s hard to reverse.

  • Ryan Toner

    Do you recommend consulting a professional immediately when you feel someone is harassing you?

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

      If it’s a debt collector then it can make sense–that or file a complaint with the CFPB.

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