When The Bill Collector Calls
A couple of weeks ago I received a very unusual phone call. The caller stated that she was calling in reference to my XYZ Bank credit card and asked if I was Richard Warren. I have a credit card from XYZ Bank and assumed that the caller was soliciting me for some service even though I am on their internal “Do Not Call” list. When I confirmed my identity the caller took a decidedly different tone.
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Her voice took on a menacing quality as she stated that she was with some firm and calling in reference to the XYZ Bank card ending in the numbers 1234. Since I don’t routinely keep card numbers in my head, I did not know off hand if this was my card number or not. I asked what the problem was and she quickly stated that I needed to bring the past due balance current immediately. When I stated that the card had a zero balance she reiterated that it did not and if I didn’t take immediate steps to pay I would be flogged, drawn and quartered, burned at the stake, keelhauled, and if that wasn’t enough they would sue me.
Still calm at this point, I stated that she obviously made a mistake and is talking to the wrong person. Even though I have a common name, she refused to believe it. She kept going on about the debt that I had to pay. I realized that she was following her training very well in that she was totally controlling the conversation and assuming that I was a lying deadbeat. Getting angry at this point, I asked “are you going to listen, or am I going to hang up?” Undeterred, she kept going on, so I hung up.
My initial concern was that I had been the victim of identity theft. I located that XYZ Bank card and checked the numbers. The last four were 5678, not the 1234 that the caller had stated. Just to be sure, I pulled a copy of my credit report and there was no credit card account bearing that number nor had there been any suspicious activity. I chalked it up to a case of mistaken identity and thought nothing more of it. Then the fun started.
The next day I came home to find a message on my machine. I was told to call 866-555-1234 regarding a personal matter of extreme importance. I knew immediately what the call was about. I also realized that I had received the same message a few days earlier but ignored it thinking it was a telemarketer calling even though I am in the Do Not Call Registry. I did not call and received a few more of the same messages. Finally they called when I was home.
Once again the caller would not allow me to get a word in edgewise and I hung up. I was ready the next time. When the call came I said “I want your name, your company name, address and phone number or I will hang up immediately.” This time I was able to get the information and said “thank you” and hung up.
Using the company name and address I was able to get the main phone number and called that instead of the one the collector gave me. I asked to speak to a supervisor in their collection department. To my surprise I was connected to someone who sounded almost human. I explained what was going on and she asked me to hold while she pulled the case file. She came back on the line and asked me several non-invasive questions such as “did I ever live at the following address?”, “were the last four digits of my Social Security number 3456?”, “do I have an XYZ Bank card ending in 1234?” the answers were all no. She then agreed that it was a case of mistaken identity but it could take 24 hours to be removed from their automatic dialer system. Mercifully, the calls stopped.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act was created to protect consumers from unscrupulous collection agencies. Unfortunately many of the companies barely stay within the limits of these laws in attempting to collect a debt.
? Collectors may call only between 8am and 9pm
? May only discuss your debt with you or your attorney
? Must send written notice within 5 days after 1st contact
? Collector must stop calling if notified in writing to do so
There are many other rules that collectors must follow and they can be found on the Federal Trade Commission website. If the debt is legitimate you should talk to them about your situation in an effort to work things out. If the debt isn’t yours, you need to be persistent in your efforts to get the collection attempts to stop. Do not hesitate to go over the head of the collector and speak with a supervisor if necessary. The worst thing that you can do is ignore them.
Ask not for whom the bell tolls…it tolls for thee – John Donne