How to stop debt collection robocalls

To Her Credit columnist Sally Herigstad
Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). She writes "To Her Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women, credit and debt, for, and also wrote for MSN Money, and, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs.

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Question for the expert

Dear To Her Credit,
What are my rights when a debt collector keeps robodialing from a blocked phone number? Once I picked up the phone, and they identified the debt by trying to give me my name and address and the bank the debt was from. While the information was true, I told them I will not ever give information out on the phone to verify it or to say I know about the debt.

They will not stop calling every 30 minutes, seven days a week, all day from 8 in the morning until 9 at night. I told them not to call, but they said they will not stop calling until the debt is collected. I finally hung up on them.

What can I do?  -- Tania

Answer for the expert

Dear Tania,
How long have they been calling you seven days a week? I'd have changed my number or unplugged the phone by now if I couldn't find any other way to stop them! Robocallers, or computers that call day after day until you finally break down and answer the phone, make me crazy. Fortunately, there are other ways you can stop them from calling.

You're on the right track by not giving information or verifying your debt.  You even told them to stop calling, which you have every right to do.

The law -- actually, multiple laws, including the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Telephone Consumer Protection Ac -- are on your side. In part due to past abuses by overeager debt collectors, they limit the permitted activities of debt collectors. To take advantage of their provisions, follow these steps:

1. First, start keeping a log of the phone calls. Keep a notebook by the phone, and write down the time every time you see a call from that number. If your state law allows it, consider recording the call.

2. Answer the phone, and ask them for the company name and address. Tell them to contact you only by mail from now on.

3. Draft and send a letter by certified mail to request validation of the debt. You say they know your name, address and the name of your bank. That doesn't prove anything. Your name and address are all over the Internet, on everything from online white pages to public land records to those unbelievably nosey data aggregation sites.

The fact that they told you the name of the bank doesn't prove anything. They could be guessing. There are only so many banks in a given area, and with their method of operating, they can afford to keep trying until they guess right.

If they send you some kind of validation by mail, you have to determine if it's legitimate. It must be very specific. An approximate balance is not good enough -- mortgages can be found in public records or they can guess at it by the value of your home. They should be able to tell you what you have paid recently and show copies of recent statements. They should also show proof that the debt has been assigned to them and by whom.

4. If they keep calling after you tell them to stop, they are breaking the law. The Federal Trade Commission offers an online list of what a debt collector can and cannot do legally, and details the steps you can take to make collectors live up to the law. You can contact the FTC and file a complaint. Although the FTC does not pursue complaints, it does keep a database of complaints that it uses to detect patterns of wrongdoing, according to its website. If you want to pursue this further, consider hiring a consumer law attorney. Many will give you a free consultation, and if they believe you can prove your case, they will attempt to collect from the caller.

Follow these steps, and soon you should be enjoying the sound of silence instead of the ring of the robocaller. Take care!

See related: Debt collectors seek right to robocall cellphones

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Updated: 01-19-2018