Is There Any Limit To How Often A Debt Collector Can Call?

A California reader has been getting calls from a debt collector every day and asks if there’s any limit to the amount of times a debt collector may call.

There is no limit to the number of calls they can make to you, but if you feel they’re harassing, you can file a complaint with the Attorney General’s public inquiry division, according to this page on the CA AG’s website. Furthermore,

There is no law that specifically limits the number of calls an agency may make to you, but repeated calls over a short period, which may be annoying or harassing, are prohibited. If you prefer that the agency contact you only by mail, you may ask them to do that. We suggest that you make that request by certified mail and keep a copy for your records (15 USC Sections 1692c & 1692d; CC Section 1788.11(d) & (e))…

…If you want to stop all contact from the agency you may request that they not contact you again. This request MUST be in writing. We suggest that you mail it certified, “return receipt requested” so you have proof of its delivery. Once the agency receives your letter, its employees can only contact you one final time to explain what action they plan to take. After that, contact must stop. Remember, though, that if you request no further contact in any way, you may leave the agency with no choice but to take you to court (15 USC Section 1692c(C)).

Sometimes just raising the bar a little bit higher for them to jump over is enough to make them give up on you.

Your rights under California’s Fair Debt Collection Practices Act [ag.ca.gov]

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. Buran says:

    What about those of us who, when we had a landline in a past residence, kept getting calls for someone who didn’t live there — no matter how many times we told the callers that the number had been reassigned?

    It took paint-peeling profanity and screaming and threats of lawsuits to make them stop … and my ex and I aren’t the type to be like that.

    Telemarketers really do hire drooling idiots.

  2. MyCokesBiggerThanYours says:

    The best way to make bill collectors to stop calling is to pay your bills.

  3. mopar_man says:

    @Buran:

    My wife and I get those calls. We got this number almost 2 years ago and there are still idiots calling for others who have had this line.

    @MyCokesBiggerThanYours:

    I came in here to post the very same thing.

  4. gorckat says:

    I thought there was something about only one contact or message allowed per day?

  5. kaikhor says:

    Remember that some people on here aren’t as finacially savvy as you. Some of us struggle from paycheck to paycheck and one emergency sends us over the edge. We want to fix it, but you have to give us time.

    We had a major emergency that made us miss a payment recently. Even though we continually pay our base amount due, we don’t have the money yet to make up that payment. Now, every phone in my house rings a couple of times a day from the same company wanting their money. I tell them every time that we are working on getting them paid back, that I want to set up a repayment plan or something and instead I just get harrassed because they need this payment. This is for people like me.

  6. euce says:

    MyCokesBiggerThanYours:
    This isn’t always true, I was in some financial trouble about a year ago and am now dilligently paying my bills and they still call – I’ve been paying on time for about 5-6 months now and my cell phone still rings off the hook without a single voice mail to explain what its all about. I’ve called them back and discussed whatever they wanted but still get calls.

  7. ATTSlave says:

    @Buran: As someone who used to work in collections. They just don’t believe you.

  8. Negative says:

    I have the same problem as Buran. I’ve been receiving collection calls for a Mr. Ping Sung for over 6 years. I’ll convince the collections agency that I’m not him and that I’ve been reassigned the number but then 6 months later I’ll get a call from a new collections agency. I just keep wondering how many times these companies are going to resell this guys debt.

  9. Hawk07 says:

    I used to get a call on my cell phone about once a week from some collection agency. They would leave an automated message that said that the call was for “Luther something”. Considering nobody in my family is named Luther, I ignored it.

    I researched the number on google a bit and apparently they call and tell people that they owe AOL random amounts of money. Even people that have never had AOL in their life get the calls.

  10. chimmike says:

    @MyCokesBiggerThanYours:

    you know, you’d THINK That would be the most common sense resolution………..but eh, when you can spend $10-15k on a credit card without guilt, why bother considering the consequences of a $500/month minimum payment that you can’t afford? Just bitch and moan when collections people start calling.

  11. anatak says:

    @kaikhor: And for people in this position – people who legitimately owe a bill and are working to pay it – boundaries are key. Explain to them that you know you owe the money and your plan to repay. Then explain that you will take their call no more than once every two weeks. If you don’t have caller ID, then get it if one of these clowns insists on harassing you.

    Indeed there is no limit to how much they can call and harassment is rather vaguely defined in the law.

    If they are calling about someone who doesn’t live there but had your number at one time and repeatedly call despite your repeated claims, then that’s easy. Explain that their calls will be treated as prank calls. Air horn, police whistle… you choose.

  12. Berz says:

    @Buran:

    My parents still get calls like that at their number, and the have had it for about 13 years now.

  13. @kaikhor: Maybe they enjoyed that missed payment so much they want you to stop paying altogether.

    Really, if they’re complaining it’s because the don’t like what you’re doing and what you’re doing is trying to make up the missed payment.

  14. @Buran: At my last place we got several calls with some lady warning someone that they were about to take someone to court if they didn’t pay or show up to some thing.

    I couldn’t figure out what was so important that it’d require going to court but not worth the bother of leaving a name or a number.

  15. cabedrgn says:

    @MyCokesBiggerThanYours: Doesn’t really work for those of us who DO pay our bills and still get collection calls because our address/name/phone number are similiar or match those who did not.

    Up until last year I had some recovery agency follow me through three listed (I’ve recently moved to unlisted) phone numbers trying to find another Brandon that apparently owes over $60k on a boat loan. I’ve had threats stating I’ll go to jail for stolen property (seems they haven’t been able to locate the boat) and bank fraud. Obviously this is not me, especially since the last 4 SS digits are completely different.

    I never had the time to take it to court and when I moved I just changed my phone number. Haven’t heard from them since. They provided some mild entertainment at times though.

  16. legotech says:

    I’m currently in the process of arguing with a collection agent over a debt to a hospital that was already paid by the insurance company. The collection agent has been sent all the backup to prove that the debt is clear and she keeps calling anyway. You see, they don’t get paid for clearing up a clerical error, they get a percentage of what they collect, so it makes no financial sense for her to fix the problem if there’s even a slight chance of possibly getting anything out of it.

    So, no, paying your bills doesn’t stop them.

    reg

  17. @legotech:
    My mother is being harrassed by a company trying to collect on the same situation. My old dentist is claiming an unpaid bill from about ten years ago that my mom has all the documenation for, the original bill, the insurance payment, receipts for payment and they will just not belive her.

  18. Buran says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: I think there’s a law about talking to anyone who isn’t the debtor, but I know that when I got harassed (see above) they would sometimes leave vague messages like “call this number and reference this case”.

    Those got greeted by a stab of the delete button, but having the phone ring while doing something else over and over got annoying.

  19. Buran says:

    @legotech: Threaten a harassment suit if they don’t go away. If they fail to do so, follow through. Same advice for the commenter above me.

  20. selianth says:

    I got a new work cell phone last year and immediately started getting messages looking for a Derek and to please call them back – I’m 90% sure they were collections calls. I finally got sick of the messages and called the lady back – she was actually very apologetic and said that Derek had actually confirmed that phone number as current about a month after it was assigned to me. Bastard. At least she believed me and I never heard from them again.

  21. Buran says:

    @ATTSlave: They sure believed it when I mentioned lawyers… after the 50th verbal abuse. If you can’t respect me I will not respect you.

  22. mrjimbo19 says:

    @Buran:

    I am with you, just moved in with my bride and we are being called 4-5 times a day for someone who obviously did not pay there bills, I ask nice… I beg and then i scream and they still seem to call…constantly.

  23. Buran says:

    @Negative: I don’t have the problem anymore since I don’t have a landline anymore. Cell phones are great because the number isn’t in any directory unless I voluntarily give it up, and I don’t unless I have to; I’ll give my work number out to things like contests, so they can’t sell my number to marketers.

    I really should get an air horn though in case some drooling “duh I don’t believe you” idiot like the one elsewhere on this page starts in on me. You call, you can disbelieve all you want while your eardrums explode. Gonna complain at me for forcing you to get that taken care of? Shouldn’t have bothered an innocent person and kept calling when told to stop.

  24. Buran says:

    @euce: Assign that number a silent ringer. Then you can say you’ll never hear from them again. ;)

  25. howie_in_az says:

    @mrjimbo19: Ugh, I got calls at 8am on Saturdays asking for my ex and they wouldn’t take “she doesn’t live here anymore” as an answer. I had to force her to update her information with The Big Three credit agencies, so far so good.

  26. MeOhMy says:

    @MyCokesBiggerThanYours: If that’s the best way, then we need a better way – I’ve never had a delinquint account, but I keep getting calls for OTHER people. I don’t have too much trouble ignoring them, but just “paying your bills” is no guarantee. If EVERYONE always paid their bills…it might work. Maybe.

  27. Hedgy2136 says:

    I heard on Clark Howard today that a new tactic they are using is to call a neighbor and say that they are some long lost friend or an attorney for someone who has left them some money and ask if they will take a note to the person they want to speak to asking them to call. This apparently happens most often after a “Drop Dead Letter” has been sent. The apparent aim is to somehow shame the debtor into making payment.

    And for you holier-than-thou types who insist in painting everyone having financial problems with the same brush, I truly hope that you never have a major illness or extended employment gap that wipes out your savings and causes this type of problem.

    It’s a lot easier to say “Just pay your damn bills and you won’t have this problem” than to walk a mile in anothers shoes.

  28. SOhp101 says:

    @MyCokesBiggerThanYours: Thanks Mr. (Ms.?) Obvious. Guess what? Sometimes debt collectors get numbers mixed up when they try to look for someone and it’s an innocent person that gets harassed.

    If you get a collection call, tell them to verify the debt is valid and to send all correspondence via mail only.

    People who are avoiding debts usually use the “Oh he doesn’t live here anymore” excuse thinking that’ll stop the collectors from calling. Yeah, right.

  29. Crazytree says:

    I have clients call me all the time for debt-validation services.

    Usually one validation letter on law firm letterhead will make 65% of the collections “go away” in my experience.

  30. Jon Parker says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: That just infuriated me. I was receiving collection calls at work — two and three a day. Threats, references to previous conversations, but no name, no number. They kept coming while I was in meetings. Once they even had me paged.

    Finally the guy called while I was at my desk, and kept calling me “James” (as you can see, my name is Jon). Referenced a debt at a store I’d never shopped at. I told him he had the wrong guy, and he still kept threatening to sue me.

    I did manage to get him to quit calling me even though he was convinced I was lying to him. But it was highly annoying, especially the lack of a contact number.

  31. re: debt collectors calling the wrong number — report it to your state attorney general if they don’t stop calling when you tell them you’re not Person X. They may even have a specific form for it. The state AG can make them back off.

    We have some woman who NEVER lived here but gives out our phone # to her collectors, her son’s truancy officer, her son’s school, etc. So we do this a lot.

  32. GearheadGeek says:

    I feel like a huge fraction of people who’ve ever moved have experience this. Now that most urban area codes have assigned a high enough percentage of available numbers, numbers get recycled pretty quickly when someone cancels their service (or, in the cases we’re talking about, gets their phone disconnected for non-payment!)

    I moved to San Antonio several years ago and got a new number which had apparently belonged to someone named Terrell in the past. I received numerous messages on my answering machine but it was several weeks before I was home to take one of the calls.

    The woman calling asked for Terrell and I told her I’d recently gotten the number and there was no one by that name at that number. She said goodbye and I thought that was the end of it. A week or so later, the messages started again, mostly from the same woman. I called her back and asked that she stop calling, saying that I’d told her weeks before that there was no Terrell at that number any longer, at which point she claimed I had told her he “wasn’t home right now.” I asked her to identify the company she worked for and she hung up on me, but I kept notes of her name and the 800 number.

    Sure enough, the calls started again. I was still mad about her hanging up on me, and I proceeded to trace the 800 number and find the name of the company and where there corporate headquarters were located, and did a little research on the company. I sent a registered letter to the president of the company stating that if I received a single collection call after the day I received the return receipt of the letter (generously allowing them a couple of days to clear up the matter) I’d file with the FCC for harassing phone calls (since I owed them no money and had informed them clearly of that fact, they had NO right to continue calling) and possibly pursue a civil action if some shark would take it.

    I got an apologetic personal phone call from someone claiming to be the president of their company promising I would receive no further collections calls, and not another call from them for the remainder of the time I lived there.

  33. turingtest says:

    I was getting calls on my 1 yr old cell phone several times per week from a collection agency for ‘Angelina’. As I repeatedly told them, “I’m not Angelina, I don’t know Angelina, please update your phone records”. They’d apologize and assure me that they’d correct their records … and then leave another message a few days later.

    Finally, I used Google to do a reverse phone number look-up. I then searched for the address of their company headquarters. I sent a polite letter addressed to their “Legal Department” explaining the problem. I also promised to write to the FTC and my states AG’s office if the calls continued. I haven’t heard from them since then.

  34. Mr. Gunn says:

    Look – It’s real simple. Send them a certified letter telling them you don’t want any more phone calls and they have to stop calling.

    That’s it. End Of Story.

    No drama, no cussing, and sure as hell no amount of “explaining” is going to do anything. They don’t care about anything you have to say. Just send them a certified letter and it will stop.

    I’ve posted about it, Just a month ago, Ben posted about it, and I’m sure next month there will be another article about it with the same complaints.

  35. factotum says:

    @Spaceman Bill Leah: Depending on where your mom lives, there is a good chance that the statute of limitations has expired and the dentist is SOL regardless if the insurance co settled the debt or not. A letter sent certified mail with return receipt to the dentist should inform them sufficiently.

  36. jrdnjstn78 says:

    I had bad credit when I was in my 20′s due to being stupid with finances. Well I have cleaned it all up.

    Anyways for those of you who are receiving calls at home all you have to do is tell them that you wish to not have any more contact by phone. Of course the collector will argue with you till you’re so upset that you want to jump off a bridge. Don’t cave in just hang up, when they call again tell them again and then tell them that they are harrassing you (which is against the law) and that you will report them. Like someone else said buy a whistle and blow it in their ear if they are that stubborn. Creditors are not suppossed to call your job (against the law). I didn’t find this out until they called my job and I had my boss talk to them, they never called again.

    For the dummy that said “just pay your bills” you don’t know that persons situation as to why they have debt. I was in a horrible car accident 2 yrs ago, which my cousin caused because she fell asleep driving my truck with me and my 2 kids in it. She rolled my truck going 70+mph, we got lucky that we lived. My kids had to be flown to a children’s hosp. an hour away. Anyways because I was missing PIP on my full coverage auto insurance I had to use my medical insurance first. The auto insurance would payback everything 100% when I settled. Well my health insurance doesn’t pay 100% and my bills and the kids bills exceded $70,000. Mind you I am a single mom and I sure don’t have 70,000 lying around. So the collections started to call me wanting the rest of the money that my medical didn’t cover. I tried to explain to them what was going on and I even had my auto insurance call them and let them know what was happening. The lawyers even called them also to let them know that the money was coming. Well everything finally got paid the beginning of this year. So don’t sit there and say “just pay your bills”, things happen and some people just don’t have millions lying around!

  37. Mr. Gunn says:

    No. Don’t call them, and don’t speak to them on the phone. The only thing you can do it send a certified letter asking them to stop. You can accomplish one thing and one thing only on the phone, and that is paying them money.

    Send the freaking letter already!

  38. shfd739 says:

    I can understand the frustration with this and being called multiple times a day by the same person. My wife and I are being harrased right now. Im out on disability due to a wreck and she is out on work comp due to a lifting injury. Our income is down about a third but these folks dont care,all they want is the money so get their commision.
    I cant wait for my insurance settlement so we can pay everyone off and not worry about it.

  39. bhall03 says:

    Why is it people feel it is alright to raise “the bar a little bit higher…to make them give up…”?

    You know, a better way is to PAY YOUR BILLS! Please stop buying if you can’t pay, because when you don’t pay, the company doesn’t lose, everyone has to pay more. And YES, that includes the idiots who decided not to pay to begin with.

    And NO, I am not a shill for any industry. I am just tired of people taking no responsibility for their own actions. Grow up and become an adult.

  40. lizzybee says:

    @Hedgy2136: I think they also Google for people with the same last name and launch massive harassing calling campaigns against innocents. I’ve had several, and I’ve spent hours trying to call them back just to tell them, “No, there’s no Hector here. You have the wrong number.”

    Usually it works– they seem to believe me just fine, and I don’t get repeat calls.

  41. Jean Naimard says:

    (There is always a hardass shill who will take the side of the debtees no matter what)


    I irregularly receive calls from someone who presumably used to have my home phone number (which I’ve got for about 5 years). When I am pissed off I simply say that he just passed away…

  42. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    Get a phone recording device & always tell them your recording. Just say: “This call is being recorded.” If they argue, ignore that, all they can do is hang up. Even if you don’t have a recorder, say that. That protects you against any laws regulating the recording of phone calls.
    You don’t have to stop recording if they ask or demand it.
    Tell them to fuck off if necessary!

    I have a couple of amazing phone calls recorded from years ago when a friend was using my number while she moved, but after filing bankruptcy. One jerk actually accused me of harassing HIM, even though he was the one that called my number.

  43. Karmakin says:

    My student loans got kicked into collections due to clerical error. (I was on a two year payment hold while I was looking for a job). It might be different in Canada, but here, once you’re kicked into collections, payments will not stop the phone calls..no strike that. Payments will not stop the harrassment.

    Because of the quick turnaround..namely these groups being shut down/run out of buisness for one reason or another, they’re not looking for a payment plan. From the first contact I’ve recieved, it’s always been the same thing. Pay within 24 hours or risk a lawsuit.

    Yes. From the first contact, which by the way, took place at 6 in the morning.

    My understanding, from a discussion with a more upright collections departmentt (it was two loans kicked out. I paid that one gladly, we set up an affordable payment plan, and paid it off quickly), is that some of these companies are work-at-home type operations and agents get a cut of what they recover. So they want to get the money at once, close out the case and get more things to make more money. It’s a huge moral hazard problem. What happens, is they go too far, the company head leaves, they sell the debt to the new company for pennies on the dollar, and the workers move to the new company.

    It’s obviously a huge problem.

  44. Snakeophelia says:

    I definitely had a problem with harassing calls when I inherited a number from Ralph Dupree, who had apparently quit paying a lot of people. The bill collectors were pretty cool about it, thought, and I figured Ralph might have been laid off and lost phone service and couldn’t help running up bills. Could happen to anyone.

    My sympathy for the deadbeat stopped when I got a phone call from a bar in Delaware. The bar’s owner told me the guy had passed him a bad check and had given him MY number as the contact phone number – one full year after it had been transferred from him to me. At that point, we disconnected the land line. If he wants to keep defrauding people, someone else can deal with his creditors. I hope the bar owner filed charges.

  45. INTPLibrarian says:

    @MyCokesBiggerThanYours: It may be the *best* way, but that doesn’t guarantee that they won’t call — wrong phone number (as many have mentioned), stolen identity, calling about a bill that HAS been paid, etc.

    And sometimes you simply can’t pay the bills (at least not immediately) and you can’t NOT buy what the bill is for either. At least not without dying. A trip to the emergency room can wipe out someone’s savings. I work with someone whose husband simply stopped sending child support payments. Sure, she can proceed with legal action, but in the *meantime* the bills still need to be paid. There are a LOT of reasons other than simply buying more than one can afford that can get one into debt. I kind of doubt the people who want to just get away with that are the same people active in this forum.

  46. SharkJumper says:

    @lizzybee:
    This has been our experience, too. We’ve had the same phone number for about 8 years. Just started getting phone calls asking for people with the same last name as ours, similar last names, one asking for someone that had a last name that was the same as my first name.

    My wife is in the banking industry. She used the term “skip-tracing.” Says that when they’re at the end of their rope, they’ll start using any method to find someone. Googling on place and names, even similar names and possible aliases. Then call whatever number pops up.

    We had one call asking if this was “so-and-so with a similar name to yours.” Nope. “Is he there?” Nope, no one lives here by that name. Never has as far as I know. “Is this such-and-such address.” Nope, and you could have looked that up yourself and known this number has never been associated with that address or that name.

    The latest tactic really has me steamed. A voice recording comes on wanting to discuss an “urgent business matter.” It gives you 3 options. Push 1 if you are this person. 2 if this person lives here, but is unavailable at this time. Or call this number if we’ve reached you in error. Um, sorry, no. I’m not going to call you to do your job, especially when you probably wouldn’t believe that I’m not that person. No option for “this person is not here, nor has he ever been here. Sod off.”

    I don’t know if these tactics are new or what, but we’ve had this number for years and we’ve only started getting a flood of these calls in the last few months. They call for many different names. It’s not just one debtor that is somehow tied to this address or phone number.

  47. chartrule says:

    For a number of years here in my home town all collections were done by the sheriffs office – no collections could take place without a court order.
    either through small claims or any other court.

    everything was done quite professionally without people being harassed/mistreated over clerical errors or gone after for bills already paid or gone after for other peoples debts.

    unfortunately we have gotten away from that and are now stuck with the same b/s that other commenters have experienced.

    There needs to be some sort of public oversight for collections agents the same as there is for bounty hunters and police officers