Harassed for debt that's not yours? Here's how to make it stop

The Credit Guy columnist Todd Ossenfort
Todd Ossenfort has been chief operating officer for Pioneer Credit Counseling since 1998. He writes our weekly "The Credit Guy" column, answering reader questions about credit counseling and debt issues.

Ask a question.
Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Credit Guy,
I am hoping you can address a problem I have not seen discussed in print. My daughter and her then-boyfriend lived with me briefly in 2002-2003. A collection company calls from different numbers sporadically -- sometimes several times daily and other days, not at all -- regarding a debt owed by the ex-boyfriend. I have spoken with a rep once and asked that they stop calling once I confirmed they were looking for the ex-boyfriend and advised them I have no idea where he is or how he can be contacted. They stopped briefly and then resumed the calls. Blocking does not work, as they call from different numbers. What are my rights? And how do I get them to cease and desist? Surely I am not the only one hounded by creditors who have no business contacting me. Thank you for any suggestions. -- Cindy

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Cindy,
Fortunately, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act protects you from being contacted repeatedly by unethical debt collectors for an account that is not your own. A collector may only contact a third party (someone other than the person who owes the debt) once to ascertain where the person who owes the debt is located and not again unless the collector believes that the third party "reasonably believes" that they were given erroneous or incomplete information. Assuming that this is not the case and you did not give erroneous information, here's what you should do: The next time the collector calls, tell them that you are aware of your rights and the laws under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and that they should not contact you again.

To make certain that the collector adheres to the requirements of the law, I would recommend that you send a letter to the collection company -- via certified mail, return receipt requested -- stating the debt does not belong to you and you do not want to be contacted regarding the debt again. If you have not received any written communication from the collector with the address to send your letter, request the mailing address from them the next time you receive a call from them. Or, if you know the name of the company, you can look up their address in an online directory, such as YellowPages.com.

Be sure to keep copies of the letter that you send and the certified mail receipt that proves the company received the letter. Should you receive additional calls after you have told the company not to call again, document the call and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at its website. The FTC does not directly resolve consumer complaints, but it files them in its database. If it receives multiple complaints about the same collection company, then it will act to resolve the problem.

Unfortunately, you may resolve the issue of getting calls from this collection company only to find that, in the future, you are contacted by a different collection company. The contact information that is associated with this debt, regrettably, has your phone number associated with it, and any future collection company that purchases the debt for probably pennies on the dollar will use the contact information that it is provided. You will need to go through the same process that you did with the first company so you won't get contacted again.

Take care of your credit!

See related: 5 key federal laws that protect card holders, Debt collectors' ethics codes, Debt collection sample letters

Meet CreditCards.com's reader Q&A experts

Does a personal finance problem have you worried? Monday through Saturday, CreditCards.com's Q&A experts answer questions from readers. Ask a question, or click on any expert to see their previous answers.

Join the discussion
We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users. Please help us keep our community civil and respectful. For your safety, do not disclose confidential or personal information such as bank account numbers or social security numbers. Anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.

If you are commenting using a Facebook account, your profile information may be displayed with your comment depending on your privacy settings. By leaving the 'Post to Facebook' box selected, your comment will be published to your Facebook profile in addition to the space below.

The editorial content on CreditCards.com is not sponsored by any bank or credit card issuer. The journalists in the editorial department are separate from the company's business operations. The comments posted below are not provided, reviewed or approved by any company mentioned in our editorial content. Additionally, any companies mentioned in the content do not assume responsibility to ensure that all posts and/or questions are answered.

Weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, advice, articles and tips delivered to your inbox. It's FREE.

Updated: 01-19-2019