Why Debt Collectors Call Wrong Numbers — and What You Can Do

Debt collectors frequently call wrong numbers, for a variety of reasons. And unfortunately, if your number ends up on one debt collector’s list it is likely to end up on others. When this happens, it is nearly impossible to make the calls stop. Here’s why.

A Question of Motives

The first time a debt collector calls a wrong number, it is probably a mistake. Nearly everyone has gotten a new phone and number only to receive calls for the previous owner of that number. Often those calls are from debt collectors. People change phone numbers for all kinds of reasons, and sometimes it is because the owner can’t afford it any longer. Wrong-number calls may be a preventable mistake, rather than an innocent one, but they are still — probably — mistakes. However, debt collectors may keep calling a wrong number even after you tell them it is the wrong number. The reason is simple: debt collectors don’t care who pays — as long as someone does.

Most people assume the opposite, that debt collectors don’t want to collect from the wrong person. But debt collectors really don’t care. They are on the phone all day calling people who claim they don’t owe the debt. Some don’t. Some are lying. Debt collectors don’t have time to sort it out; they just need a payment. On the off chance you get fed up and make a payment just to make the calls stop, you just made a debt collector happy.

What You Can Do

The calls will usually stop eventually. Or they mostly will, anyway. As statutes of limitation expire on the debts owed by whoever the collectors are trying to reach, most debt collectors will stop trying to collect. Unfortunately, this may take years to work, if it works at all. (As I was writing this post, I got a call for the previous owner of my phone number — which I have had for at least 10 years. That kind of wrong-number call is pretty rare, though.)

To speed things up, definitely get your credit reports and make sure the information on them is accurate — especially your contact information. Besides your phone number, look for other credit reporting errors, since a wrong phone number could indicate worse problems. If you find inaccurate information, tell the reporting agency to fix it.

You may also be able to use the Telephone Consumer Protection Act to sue the debt collectors who call you. This won’t stop future debt collectors from calling, but $1,000 (or more) will make you feel better about saying “I’m sorry, but you have the wrong number” to any who do call.

Last updated 2015-10-02.

Featured image by Richard Kang / CC BY 2.0.