A case of Mistaken Identity? What to do if Debt Collectors start Calling for something you Don’t Owe

It’s happening more and more across the country; consumers receiving phone calls from collection agencies about bills that they don’t actually owe. In fact, the problem has grown so excessive that it’s now the #2 complaint that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is receiving. If you’re keen on understanding why it’s happening, and what to do about it if you find yourself getting these types of calls, read below and find out. Enjoy.

Simply put, people who don’t pay their bills expect to hear from a debt collector but what they don’t expect is to get calls or letters from a collection agency for debts that aren’t theirs. The question that this growing number of consumers have is what to do about it if it does happen, and the first thing that they should do is contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or CFPB. In 2013 they started accepting complaints from consumers who were getting calls or collection notices that were unwarranted and, in the first six months, they got over 11,000 of them.

The most common complaint was mistaken identity, or collection agencies trying to collect on a debt from a person who didn’t actually owe the debt. The US PIRG, another consumer advocacy group, analyzed all of the complaints and found that the collection problems were already a major source of them, second only to complaints about mortgages during the same period of time.

Some of the other complaints from consumers about the collectors included;

What exactly are your rights?

Although it’s hard to have sympathy for them, the fact is that that collectors have a very tough job. Very few people actually want to talk to them so many of their calls and letters go unanswered or completely ignored. This of course makes it extremely difficult for them to verify information. Also, many consumers feel that if they simply ignore their calls and letters and don’t respond, collection agencies will go away.

The first thing that you should do if you’re getting calls from an unknown collection agency is to simply inform the caller that you won’t do anything until a “validation notice” is sent to you, something that’s required by federal law. They are required to send you that validation notice by the Fair That Collection Practices Act, and to do it within 5 days of their first contact with any consumer. The notice must include the name of the creditor to whom you supposedly owe money as well as information on how to proceed if you believe that the debt is not owed by you.

“You should do that in writing as soon as possible, preferably within 30 days of your first contact with the debt collector,” explained Christopher Koegel, an assistant director at the Federal Trade Commission. “Once they get that letter, the collector is not supposed to continue collection attempts until it can verify that you are the right person.”

One of the reasons you need to address this type of problem as quickly as possible is that many debt collectors will have this debt, whether it’s yours or not, and add it to your credit report, something that could lower your credit score. That’s why getting your free credit report every year from annualcreditreport.com is so important, so that you can find any incorrect information, dispute it in writing and get it taken off of your report.

By law if you inform a debt collecting agency that you want them to stop calling they must, but it’s best to do this in writing. If you actually do owe the debt it won’t make it go away, and the debt collecting agency could decide to take you to court, but the harassing phone calls to stop.

One Response to “A case of Mistaken Identity? What to do if Debt Collectors start Calling for something you Don’t Owe”

  1. Leonard @ The Wallet Doctor March 29, 2014 at 5:43 pm #

    Its a scary thought to get a call from a collection agency period. Its getting even worse with so many scams being run under the guise of collection agencies. It should encourage everyone who finds themselves in such a situation to go ahead and contact the agency and verify the issue and follow through. Running away from problems like this will only lead to increased difficulty along the way.