NEW YORK (Credit.com) -- 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 Credit.com's 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Christopher Maag is a contributing writer for Credit.com. Chris graduated with honors from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and has reported for a number of publications including The New York Times, TIME magazine and Popular Mechanics. Reach Chris via email at email@example.com.