Debt Collectors and Wrong Numbers: How to Handle a Case of Mistaken Identity

Debt collection is something that everyone has to deal with. Case in point: a debt collector once left a message on my mom’s answering machine, where I had not lived for eleven years. My credit report was squeaky clean—I checked—but apparently there is another Sam Glover out there with worse luck.

Whenever you get a message from someone about “an important business matter,” it is most likely a debt collector trying to get in touch with you. When this happens, you should return the call, but be careful. If the debt is not yours, you want to avoid further calls, not to end up in the debt collector’s Rolodex.

When you call back, use Skype, a pay phone, or caller ID blocking. The debt collector may not believe you when you tell them you are not the person they are looking for, and you do not want to give them an easy way to keep bugging you. It is a good idea to record the phone call, if you can.

The debt collector should attempt to determine whether you are the person they are looking for. They may ask if you have ever lived at a certain address or had a certain phone number. If you are not the person they are trying to contact, this should clear it up. Ask them to remove any information that is yours from their account. Do not give them any information they do not already have.

If you are the person they are trying to call, take careful notes, and record all conversations. Get the collector’s address or fax number, and follow up your phone call with a written request for verification of the debt. Once you have the evidence in front of you, you should contact a consumer rights lawyer to help you figure out how to proceed.

Featured image: “Sorry, Wrong Number 3” by Lee Carson is licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. The image has been DESCRIBE MODIFICATIONS.