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Called by a Collection Agency

Written by Nickel - 36 Comments

Last night we returned home from a weekend away to a pair of phone messages asking me to call a certain phone number. One message was from a woman, the other was from a man. Both callers gave generic-sounding names, and they seemed to have an odd sense of urgency given that they didn’t leave any information as to why they were calling.

My wife actually listened to them first and nailed the situation squarely on the head… They were calling from a debt collection agency. How do I know this? Simple. I Googled the phone number that they gave me and up popped a bunch of hits for a certain collection agency. The funny thing is, we have perfect credit and have never been delinquent on any bills.

There are three main possibilities here:

(1) They’re taking a shotgun approach to finding a debtor with whom I’m luck enough to share a name. In this case, they must just be looking through the phone book by last name, as our phone is listed under my wife’s first initial and our last name. My name isn’t actually listed.

(2) I’m a victim of identity theft and/or credit fraud, and there are outstanding debts resulting from this that have gone to collections.

(3) The collection agency is running some sort of scam. I’m not really sure what they’d be playing at, but I’m always on the lookout for scams so I thought I’d throw this out there as a possibility.

From the start, my money has been on #1. I do, however, have to admit that I was a bit concerned about #2. Thus, I decided to check my free credit reports. As I expected, all three of my credit reports are clean, so I think I’m in the clear as far as identity theft or credit fraud goes.

For the time being, I’m just sitting tight. While I’m not planning on calling them, I suspect they’ll trying to get in touch with me again shortly. In the mean time, I’ve been brushing up on the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act, both of which protect consumers against unfair credit practices.

Published on October 8th, 2007 - 36 Comments
Filed under: Credit Cards

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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» Still Waiting on Debt Validation from the Collection Agency
» Dealing With a Collection Agency
» Protecting Our Credit From a Wayward Collection Agency
» Dealing With a Collection Agency (Again)
» All About the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)
» You Should Be Ashamed of Yourself: Debt Collection Via Embarrassment
» How to Handle Debt Collectors

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36 Responses to “Called by a Collection Agency”

  1. 1
    Randall Says:

    When we moved to our house almost 10 years ago, I got a whole rash of calls because someone named “Jason Alexander” used to have my phone number and apparently did ‘bad things’ with checks, credit cards, etc.

    Since many local businesses use phone numbers to track users, it was quite a while before I stopped getting the evil looks and the “Your name isn’t Jason Alexander, is it? He still owes,… etc.”

    In fact, I still get about a call a year from collection companies trying to find him (I assume after buying the bad debt from the previous collection company).

    It’s gone from annoying, at first, to amusing. It’s a running joke in our family when we do something stupid with money. (maybe Jason’s back?!??)

  2. 2
    Chris Says:

    I would call them and ask why they are calling. Though they won’t call with the same frequency they would if they KNEW you were who they’re looking for, they will probably call a couple times a week. I had a call from a collection agency for someone with a name similar to mine. I ignored it for about a month but they kept leaving voicemails (they would always call in the middle of the day apparently). Once I called them up and talked to the agent in a friendly, helpful tone, she apologized and the calls stopped.

  3. 3
    kitty Says:

    Could it just be a wrong number? They could’ve just got a digit wrong.

  4. 4
    Curtis Says:

    My wife’s parent’s just got a call from a collection agency a few weeks back looking for my wife’s ex-husband. They go all out to find people.

  5. 5
    nickel Says:

    kitty: They left a message asking for me by name, so it’s not just a case of mis-dialing. In all likelihood, they’re calling everyone with the right last name in our area code hoping to stumble onto the deadbeat that they’re looking for.

  6. 6
    Avlor Says:

    Interesting. Thanks for sharing the experience. Will be curious to see what happens in the end.

  7. 7
    Colin E. McConnell Says:

    I think that this may well be a ’scam’ by the collection agency. Check out the article “Sleazy new debt-collector tactics” by Liz Pulliam Weston on MSN Money at

    If you find out this is what’s going on, I would IMMEDIATELY complain to appropriate government agencies, such as the FCC, FTC, state attorney general, etc. Also, if you feel that this is a scam, ask for the collection agency’s complaint in writing, so that you can charge mail fraud, if warranted.

    Also, for your sanity’s sake, you may want to call your phone company, and report to them the calls as abusive and / or illegal, and ask them to block the number (if they will) … they may need to put a trace on your line to do this.

    If all else fails, you may need to hire a lawyer (yes, even though you’ve done absolutely nothing wrong) do deal with the collection agency for you.

    Best of luck to you in resolving the situation.

  8. 8
    Mrs. Micah Says:

    Not cool. We’ve been getting nasty letters at my workplace because a different building in our same company has been deliquent on a few bills (which were mailed to us and then mailed to the building and then sent to Canada to be paid…).

    So I’ve had to learn our policies for responses, saving the letters and such.

    A roommate once had the same problem as Randall, with her cell phone. She ended up changing the number. These people would verbally harass her as soon as she answered the phone. She’d try to explain but they didn’t believe her. Finally she gave up.

  9. 9
    EA Says:

    I had the same thing happen, they were looking for someone I shared an apartment with some five years ago…once I told them I was no longer in contact with her, they never called again.

  10. 10
    Jessica Says:

    I’ve gotten a few recurring calls from a collection agency, not because they were looking for me specifically, but because they thought I was a reference for someone else. They were looking for the wrong person, but because we share the same first name, I’m sure they assumed the last name was different due to marriage. Or they didn’t consider it at all, whatever.

    Getting these people to leave me alone has been a pretty irritating experience. They speed through the message, so that I have to listen to it 2 or 3 times to get the number and call back. Then, I have to sit on hold and be told how I can pay my bill for 10 minutes. Once connected, I’m speaking with a surly representative who a) has no idea how to help me b) insists that I share my personal information to verify that I’m not actually the reference they’re looking for (yeah right) c) gives up and lies about removing my number, as I’ve had to do this twice in the past 3 months.

    This has made me very thankful that no collection agency actually has a legitimate reason to contact me.

  11. 11
    Patrick Says:

    Sorry this is happening. It’s a good thing you are taking the proper precautions. You never know if it is someone trying to scam you. I would try to handle it responsibly, but not worry too much about it. I think it will all turn out well in the end.

    As a side note, having an unlisted number can be a blessing at times, as can only having a cell phone for communication. ;)

  12. 12
    Brian Says:

    This happened to me as well. Someone shared a last name with me, but the first name and middle initial were different. I got hundreds of calls from a collection agency but since I have caller ID I never answered one of them, figuring they would continue to harass me if they ever got a live body. They sent me letters as well addressed to this person with my last name. Eventually they stopped calling and sending letters, so I would just ignore it, seeing as your credit is fine.

  13. 13
    James Says:

    I have heard of case #3 happening before. Basically they call up and try to make you pay fake debts and threaten legal action and everything else hoping you’ll just acquiesce to their demands. Also, I believe you have the right to not be contacted at home by a collections agency and to not be contacted at work if your employer feels it detracts from your job. There’s some good info in this article.

  14. 14
    Scott Hunter Says:

    I just bought a cell phone with and was assigned a phone number of a previous individual who had some collection issues. Nice thing about a cell phone was that you can assign a different ring tone based on the caller id. Well, anytime the debt collector calls, the phone does not ring at all.

  15. 15
    BillinDetroit Says:

    I had a collection agency write me with a bogus billing. Right name and all … but the amount was unfamiliar (just a few dollars) and there was no clue as to the name of the original holder of the debt.
    I mailed them back offering payment if they could provide the name of the original creditor and the date the debt was incurred.

    It’s been over a year and I haven’t heard from them since.

    It would have been simpler to make out a check for the requested amount … but I don’t pay bills I can’t verify. Frankly, I think it was an attempt at fraud.

  16. 16
    MInTheGap Says:

    I’ve had a few calls to my house asking to talk to me about my loans– of which I have none. I only have one credit card account open, and it’s not carrying a balance.

    I heard one person say that when they asked why they called they said that because “everyone has credit” they were just randomly calling people.

    I’ve also heard that it’s a pretty big deal not to take care of misassigned debt. If someone claims that you owe them and you don’t substantiate that you do not in writing, that debt could become yours. It’s a scary thing.

  17. 17
    Cheap Like Me Says:

    We got a couple calls from a collection agency looking for a relative who had given my husband as a reference and then hadn’t paid his bills.

  18. 18
    Me Says:

    We constantly get calls for the person that used to live at our address. We did a credit check also and found it fine because we were worried about ID theft. I have read telling them they have the wrong number does nothing, so now when they call I save their number in my phone book with a distinctive ring of ringer off. It is a shame they make people afraid to answer their own phones when they did nothing wrong.

  19. 19
    Tim Says:

    I had this happened before on several occasions. Just tell them that you aren’t who they are looking for and to remove your number from their list. definitely do not give out any personal information.

  20. 20
    vh Says:

    For quite a while a sleazy used-car dealership kept calling my number asking for a woman with a generic-sounding (probably fake) name and demanding to know why she hadn’t made her car payments. Whenever I would call the number they left on my answering machine and tell them no one by that name was at my telephone number, they would promise to take me off their harassment list.

    After months of this, I finally got ahold of the dealership’s owner. When I told him he had the wrong number, first he hung up on me. When I called him back and asked him to hear me out, he swore at me and let loose a stream of nasty invective. I hung up on him.

    Subsequently, I complained in writing to the following entities:

    The state attorney general’s office, the U.S. attorney general’s office, and the Federal Trade Commission, alleging identity theft and fraud

    The state banking commission, alleging abusive collection tactics

    The Better Business Bureau and a statewide trade group of used-car dealers, describing the dealer’s unethical behavior and detailing his abusive language

    Oddly, the used car dealership has quit calling. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, eh?

  21. 21
    Randall Says:

    WOW Vh, You’re my new ‘Hero of the Week’! Remind me not to get you angry at me. Great work.

  22. 22
    FMF Says:

    You mean there are TWO people with the name FiveCentNickel? ;-)

  23. 23
    RootAnn Says:

    We had a similiar thing happen at a previous address. Collection agency called for someone with the same first name (different spelling), different middle initial, same last name. They’d rented a limo for prom and evidently trashed it & kept it past their original time to get back. Then, never paid the extra fees incurred. Took quite the convincing to explain my husband was NOT the same person. I think he ended up writing them a letter, but am not sure. VERY nasty people. Makes me glad we are not in debt.

    On a side note, we have the same phone number that a ‘deadbeat’ in our town used to have. The phone company never changed the caller ID name when we got the number, so people we called would not answer / call us back because they thought the deadbeat was calling. Even the local pizza delivery place wouldn’t take our orders! A neighbor finally clued us in on what was going on and the phone company changed the information for us.

    They also listed our address wrong (except for our billing address). I always wish I wouldn’t have had them change it to the right address. T’was quite fun living at an address that technically didn’t exist!

    Good luck!

  24. 24
    Penny Says:

    If it’s a legitimate collection, the agency calling you now will eventually give up and the account will be sold to yet another collection agency and it will start all over again. (Our company has occasionally had to resort to using a collection agency.) My home number had previously belonged to a deadbeat and it took me 10 years to finally get all of the agencies to stop calling. Most of the people I spoke with believed that I wasn’t the person when I explained that if I ever got my hands on the deadbeat, he’d be left in a greasy little puddle and I’d be more than happy to turn over his remains to them. :-)

  25. 25
    MoneyNing Says:

    I think you should really call them and get more information. That way, at least you can start digging on your own. Sitting tight might cause more pain later since there could be something that you might not have checked.

  26. 26
    mbhunter Says:

    I KNEW IT!

    You’re borrowing for your dedicated hosting aren’t you? ;)

  27. 27
    Robert Says:

    I had this problem some years back, where we’d get calls looking for someone with the same name but different middle name, who was big time bad at paying their bills. It was frustrating at first until we figured out what was going on, but we eventually got enough information to convince the various callers we weren’t the droids they were looking for. It’s important to find out who they are looking for and be able to prove how that isn’t you. Not that this burden should be on you, but there it is.

  28. 28
    dimes Says:

    We get these kinds of calls ALL the time, and they’re almost ALWAYS automated. Like anyone would actually return an automated call to a debt collector (or anyone else for that matter). The problem is that even reporting them to the attorney general won’t get them to stop and calling them back usually puts you on hold for 30 minutes and the calls don’t stop. I’d keep ignoring them if I were you, or answer them and refuse to tell them ANYTHING. They’re bugging you, they should be the 100% forthcoming ones.

  29. 29
    Deborah Says:

    When I got my phone number 6 yrs ago I have now,we started getting calls from AT&T, because the number we was issued used be one a person had who did not pay their bill. So I contacted my phone server , told them the problem and we had a 3 way call with AT&T and they explained to them that I had just been issued the number so they quite calling. Now I still get bill collector calls for these people even after 6 yrs of using this number. The funny thing is that I know the person who run up these bills, and send there children to a PRIVATE CHRISTIAN SCHOOL.

  30. 30
    icup Says:

    As near as I can figure, I think the calls are almost always automated because if you are forced to call them back, they can legally record you (of course after informing you “this call may be recorded”). Presumably, if you agree to pay anything, they will have a recording of it and you will be held accountable even if the debt was never yours. This apparently works on some percentage of people.

    This is also why they call during the day, knowing you won’t be home like most people. Very rarely have I gotten these sorts of calls a got a live person upon answering. Almost always I have to deal with the tedium of calling them and wading through their stupid system to tell them they have the wrong guy.

    Luckily I haven’t had any for over a year now, but for awhile there it was literally every day with the voicemail.

  31. 31
    Deborah Says:

    Most of the time these collection agencies calls, it is a live person on the other end when we answer the phone. And yes, there are some of these agencies that calls via computerized recording. I have had phones calls from these agencies as early as 7 AM (when they see FLORIDA all they think of is that we are under EST but the problem there is Fla has 2 time zones,CST also)and as late as 10 PM. I am in slow time,CST.

  32. 32
    Van Says:

    This exact same thing happened to me.I received 5 to 6 phone messages where they said they were calling in reference to a past due account and gave me the last 4 digits of a credit card number.

    I informed them that I did not have a credit card from that company. They then asked for the last 4 digits of my SSN, which I refused to give them. They then threatened to place the past due account on my credit report.

    I informed them that I had traced the call, which I had, and that I would be reporting them the BBB.

    Turns out this is exactly what someone else said in a previous comment. The collection agency purchased old bad debt (for someone else) and basically did a skip trace, which is calling everyone they can find with the same or similar name or address.

    FYI- It is illegal for them to continue contacting you after you state that you are not the person they are looking for. However, you MUST tell them to remove your name from the list. My advice is to ask for the caller’s name each time someone calls, and tell them that any future contact will be considered harrasment. This worked for me.

  33. 33
    m8rx007 Says:

    I’ve been getting calls for a couple of days from a “Private” number. Finally, yesterday, they called me with a legit number, used my first name, and told me it was in my best interest to call them back. They were incredibly rude. I called my cell phone provider and changed my number. When I googled their number, it came up as “Private Eyes Investigations” in Mobile, AL. Their website, as well as their tone isn’t very professional and they use Yahoo e-mail addresses. Sounds like a scam to me!

  34. 34
    Marie Says:

    I would like to know if there is a certain time frame in which a collection agency is allowed to call.

    I have been receiving calls from a company called NCO at 7:15 am up till 10:45 pm every day. I have told them I get paid every two weeks and that I will send the $40.00 on the friday I get paid…..

    I didn’t think they could call you after 9:00 pm or before 9:00 am.

    Anyone have an answer to this question?

  35. 35
    George Says:

    LMAO-

    I’LL CAP THIS JUST ADDED EMPHASIS

    ONLY WAY TO STOP ANY COLLECTION COMPANY FORM CALLING IS TO SEND A CEASE AND DESIST LETTER. LIST YOUR PONE NUMBER IF IT IS TRULY NOT YOU THEY ARE LOOKING FOR.
    IF THEY CONTACT YOU MORE THAN ONCE – IT IS A CRIME AND ALSO STATE IN THE LETTER WHICH NEEDS TO BE RETURN RECIPT AND CERTIFIED THAT YOU ARE TAPING ALL INCOMING PHONE CALLS.

  36. 36
    Buckiee Says:

    We built this house in 2002 and got our current landline #. For years we have been getting calls from agencies looking for my husband’s brother. I usually just pass the info along with some mild irritation that WE are getting these calls. Brother in law has never lived here and never had our number. Today I received a VERY threatening recorded message, with no mention of who they were or who they were looking for. I was scared that something had happened with our account. I called back to find, no they were just looking for b-i-l again. I was LIVID that they could say such horrible things in a prerecorded message AT ALL, much less call the wrong person with it! My question is this: what is an agency’s legal responsibility to make sure they are a) calling the right person and b) not threatening and harassing innocent parties? I told them quite clearly not to call here again. I need to submit that in writing? This is ridiculous.

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