Why Debt Collectors Call Wrong Numbers

Debt collectors frequently call wrong numbers, for a variety of reasons. And, unfortuately, 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. For example, nearly everyone has gotten a new phone and number, only to receive calls for the previous owner of the phone number. The previous owner probably lost the number when he or she stopped paying the bill. Such calls may be a preventable mistake, rather than an innocent one, but they are still—probably—a mistake. However, many debt collectors will keep calling a wrong number, even after you tell them it’s 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 call at 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 are wrong. 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. With calls so far out of date, though, follow-ups are pretty unlikely.)

To speed things up, definitely get a copy of 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 can also 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 call.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/31199821@N06/3855577196/)

  • bradenbost

    So I’m on the do-not-call list, but all of that seems to be focused on telemarketing. I’m pretty sure the folks calling me are debt collectors and I’m not the guy they’re asking for (been my number for 6 years, now). Is it all the same for these purposes?

    • joe

      Same thing here, I keep getting a call for a Jackie with my same last name. There is no Jackie. I’m listed in the phone book under J. so I guess they just decided to go for the shotgun approach. This should be illegal or at least covered under the national do not call list since all they are doing is effectively telemarketing to find this Jackie person…

  • Beentheredonethat

    Tell them that you have to go get them, “hold on, he (or she) is next door” then set the phone down and waste their time waiting. After they hang up dial your phone company’s number for “call block.”

  • Anna Mouse

    Sorry, but the old number change thing is b.s. My mom inherited her home from her parents and the home is over 100 years old. Furthermore the phone number was created almost 100 years ago and the only change was when the phone company added a few digits to the number decades ago.

    She regularly gets calls from debt collectors for the wrong people, robo calls from debt collectors where they do not identify themselves, and robo calls from telemarketers. She is on the do not call list and has told all of the in person debt collectors that they have the wrong number and should remove her. Some have said that they would but did not and several have openly refused to remove her number.

    The laws in the USA to protect civilians in the USA are a joke and telemarketers and debt collectors see paying fines as a cost of doing business.

  • Pi10107

    My problem is that I have been receiving harassing phone calls for a person I do not know. I have had my number for years and it is unpublished because it is a buy minutes phone. The debt collectors do not know who they are calling. I have tried to explain that they have the wrong number, but they are rude or hang up on me. I finally found the person they were trying to call through a newspaper article and she is a criminal. She didn’t steal my identity. She stole my phone number. The collectors will not give me the name and address of their “agency” so I can’t write to them. When I call their numbers back, they won’t answer. This has been going on for nearly a year. It costs me minutes every time they call or text. They keep passing on my number to another collector. There seems to be no solution and I really don’t want to have to change my number.

    • http://samglover.net/ Sam Glover

      At this point, I think it’s worth sitting down with a consumer lawyer. One of the things they should be able to do is track down the collectors who are harassing you (and sue them for it).

      The NACA consumer lawyer database is probably the best place to start looking. Use the FDCPA checkbox.

      Fair warning, you may have to call a few lawyers before you get one that fully understands what you’re facing and has the ability to track down your harassers. Some lawyers check the box next to FDCPA without any real expertise. It’s unfortunate (and you should feel free to complain to NACA if you discover lawyers who have done this), since they are supposed to be consumer advocates, but it happens.