When The Bill Collector Calls

by | BiggerPockets.com

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.

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.

Identity Theft?

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.

Fighting Back

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.

Your Rights

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.

Some Basics
? 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

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  1. Hey Richard. I had a similar experience with a collection agency who thought I was someone else, and like in your situation, they were relentless. Like in your situation, I was eventually able to talk with someone reasonable to get them to see that I wansn’t the one they were looking for (not even the name was right). Those people are real pit-bulls! While I appreciate that they deal with deadbeats all day, the law still needs to catch up. These companies are harassing and extreme.

    Thanks for sharing the right of the consumer in the Fair Debt Collection Act. I never knew that this existed, as I’m sure many others don’t either. Perhaps just getting word of it out there will be helpful to folks.

    Thanks again.

  2. Aggressive collection tactics will only increase over the next 6 months to a year. As more people are delinquent on their credit card payments, all the big players will step up their collection tactics and try to get as much money out of someone as they can before they declare bankruptcy. After bankruptcy most of that unsecured debt will be left off the repayment plan and the credit card companies are stuck holding the bill, so they’re going to try and get their money as quick as they can.

  3. This couldn’t have come at a better time. All I see is more and more people who can’t pay there bills and they are left with no choice but to use their credit. As their credit dries up the calls will begin. Collection agencies can be some of the most ruthless companies but consider what they deal with on a regular basis and you can almost understand why they are the way they are. Thanks for the great article.

  4. Jennifer Martin on

    I actually had an even crazier situation happen. I am a realtor with a VERY common name and I was in my first month with my broker when he calls me into his office and hands me a letter and asks “what’s this”.

    It was a student loan “Demand Letter” for like $48,000! I about fell off the chair … I stuttered and said, “It is NOT mine, I pay my student loan payment religiously every month”. I mean I was freaking out because this broker could be thinking I’m a real winner lol.

    I took a copy of that letter home with me because I was intending to call and didn’t want any witnesses to the language that could come out of my mouth as mad as I was. I called the number (not toll free mind you) and in 5 minutes had the gal on the other end apologizing and that it must have been a case of mistaken identity.

    But I was mad and I said, “Maybe you should have thought of that BEFORE sending a collection letter to the attention of my BROKER and by gosh I expect you to ALSO send him an apology letter that clears my NAME”.

    I go into the office the next day and find out that my broker took that letter to his attorney and had him send a cease and desist order … I about cried. I was so grateful that he didn’t doubt my innocense. Well the company never sent him that apology letter but I’ve never heard from them again (knock on wood) and I knew I had one great broker!

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