Dealing with debt collectors can be stressful enough when you know you actually owe them money. But with cases of identity theft and mistaken identity, some people have the unpleasant experience of debt collector harassment when they don’t owe anything at all.
Here’s a look at how debt collectors might get the wrong person and what you can do if you’re on the wrong end of the phone.
Identity Theft or Mistaken Identity?
Generally speaking, there are a few reasons a person would get collection calls intended for someone else. These include:
- Identity theft: When someone uses another person’s identifying information (Social Security Number, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, etc.), that’s identity theft. Some thieves apply for jobs with stolen SSNs, some open new credit accounts and some simply use existing accounts. To check whether someone besides you has been using your information, log on to AnnualCreditReport.com for a free check of your credit report. If debt collectors are calling because of identity theft, you might have a lot of work ahead of you straightening things out. The sooner you check your reports, the better.
- Mistaken identity: In this situation, a debt collector simply mistakes you for someone with a similar (or identical) name. Those with common names are naturally more susceptible to this than those with unusual names, but it could happen to anyone. In some cases, third-party identity checkers will contact you before you receive debt collection calls to verify your name and phone number. If you get a call like this, insist on learning as much as you can.
- A combination: It’s possible that a credit reporting company accidentally combined two credit reports (i.e. merged information from the reports of two people with similar or identical names). If this has happened to you, you need to take action to get your credit situation sorted out. It will require a little effort, but it’s essential to avoid future confusion and to maintain your individual credit.
Dealing with Debts that Aren’t Yours
So what can you do if debt collectors won’t leave you alone about someone else’s debt? Thanks to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, you can take action:
- Review your credit report. Make sure your identity isn’t being used by anyone other than yourself.
- Send the collectors a letter explaining why you are not responsible for these debts and asking them to stop contacting you.
- Request written proof that you are the one who owes these debts. Because the debt collector is unlikely to be able to do this, you may never hear from them again.
If you are unable to convince collectors of your identity, you may want to consider enlisting legal help.