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What to Do When You Get a Call From a Credit Collector

Ask Savvy: Bill Collectors Are Calling Me — But They're Looking For My In-Laws!


Dear Savvy,

I'm having a problem with creditors calling my house to try to find my in-laws. They evidently aren't paying their bills, and since they don't want to be bothered with the creditors, the creditors end up calling my husband and I. This is happening more and more frequently. My husband hasn't been in contact with most of his family since we got married, almost five years now, for reasons much like this. My question is - is there any way to stop the creditors from calling us? And can this cause harm to our own credit? The creditors themselves are usually very nice, and I feel badly that we can't help them retrieve their money from people who choose not to pay the bills. We tried contacting my husband's mom when this all started, but all she said is that she has it taken care of, and refused to take the contact information for the collection agency. Is there any way to solve this embarrassing problem and is there any safeguarding we should be doing for ourselves?

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A: Oy vey! It must be awful having to field uncomfortable collection calls for your estranged mother-in-law! The good news is there are steps you can take to stop the collectors from calling you, and none of this will affect your credit as long as none of her cards are tied to you or your husband.

The latest report published by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission on debt collection practices was issued in January. It showed that 22.1 percent (or 15,314 consumers) filed complaints due to debt collectors making repeated calls to employers, friends and family to gather information that would assist them in collecting the debt. What this means is that you're not alone in receiving calls on behalf of an in-debt family member, but it also means that the collectors actions aren't in line with your rights.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is a federal law that was created to, as the name obviously suggests, promote fair debt collection practices. The creditors weren't violating the FDCPA when they initially contacted you, but it is a violation once they've continued to call even after you've told them you're the wrong person. The best solution would be for you to send the agencies written letters requesting they stop contacting you for information about a debt that isn't yours. You have no obligation to communicate with the creditors because you're not the one in debt.

I encourage you and your husband to check your credit report regularly — you want to be sure his mother doesn't open any cards using yours or your husband's social security number. That would trigger a whole other identity theft mess, and one that would be much bigger than the one you have on your hands right now. Just stay on top of it, and everything will work out!

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