IANYL, Round One

Might as well get into it. If I don’t respond to your comment, that may be because you asked about criminal law, intellectual property, or something that does not fall within the (my) definition of consumer law. I will save those for another day. (For the questions about checking receipts, I think these posts had some pretty good answers.)

FunPaul asks:

I recently received a collection notice in the mail that said, contact us within 5 days or, um well, we’ll send you more letters.

The debt isn’t mine. The last name on the letter is not my last name, it’s close though. . . . Do you have any advice for people who receive collection notices? I assume that there are a lot of people who don’t know what to do when they receive a scary sounding letter and do things that could cost them money.

As Ben said, I do have a soft spot for debt collectors. Or the opposite. Actually, my office phone number apparently used to belong to someone who owes a lot of people money, so this happens to me all the time. The message is usually something like “This is _____ calling about an important business matter. Please call 1-800-DEBT-DUE and reference number XXXXXXX.”

I am in Minnesota, so I can record phone calls. I use Skype to call, because the Pamela add-on makes recording easy. And I call back. I haven’t had any trouble getting them to stop calling, but part of that is because I introduce myself like this: “HI, this is Sam Glover, I am a consumer attorney and I sue debt collectors. The person you are looking for is not at this phone number; please do not call again.” (You can’t lie about being an attorney, however, so don’t copy this verbatim. Say you know your rights under the FDCPA or something.)

If they didn’t stop calling, though, I would have a good record that I asked, and that they didn’t comply. If you can’t record without notifying the other party or getting their consent, tell them that you are recording. You’ll have a record that they consented if it comes up.

Also, take careful notes of the time you were called, the person who called, what they said, what number they gave you, etc. Record voicemail messages, as well. You may never need them, but if you start getting harassed, all your careful records will come in handy.

idledebonair asked about the length of time a negative credit information can stay on your credit report.

First, this has nothing to do with whether or not you still owe the debt or whether the debt remains within the statute of limitations. Generally, then, the answer is seven years. You can find this in the FCRA (PDF link), section 605. There are two notable exceptions:

    1) Credit transactions where the principal amount is–or can reasonably be expected to be (in the case of credit lines, for example)–$150,000 or more.
    2) under the Higher Education Act of 1965, the seven years starts over every time you make a payment on an FFEL loan, and does not apply to Perkins loans.

In other words, it depends on the type of student loan, but you will live with Perkins loans until you pay them in full, and you will live with FFEL loans for at least seven years after your last payment, and there are a couple of other provisos to how long FFEL loans may be reported.

That’s all for now. Keep the comments coming.SAM GLOVER


Edit Your Comment

  1. kerry says:

    Just about every day I come home to an answering message from a debt collector, always for a different person, none of whom live at my address. My best guess is that my phone number is a popular fake given out by deadbeats. The only problem is they never call while I’m home, so I can’t ever say “hey that person doesn’t live here, please never call again.” Also, they’re calling for different people almost every time.

  2. Amy Alkon says:

    Just guessing, but you live in an apartment building? I get my mail at a mailbox place, as do about 100 other people. Apparently, collection agencies have started calling just anybody at an address. I had a several calling me about the mail of some woman I’d never heard of. I Googled her, and found she was another person who got mail where I do. Or used to.

    I wonder how common a practice this has become.

  3. spanky says:

    Can I tell them I’m a “consumer at Ernie”?

    Because my house’s name is Ernie.

  4. Paul D says:


    Try changing your outgoing message to something like:

    “Hi, you’ve reached the home of Kerry. If you are trying to reach someone other than Kerry, you have the wrong number. Otherwise, please leave a message.”

  5. yalej says:

    I’ve had this happen a couple of times. All I did was call the 1-800 number and told them that the person they were looking for did not live here. They made a note, and I did not hear from the again, never had any issues.

  6. Kat says:

    I babysit for a couple who has debt collectors calling all day… it drives me crazy.

  7. Little Miss Moneybags says:

    Have you checked your credit report to make sure that this debt isn’t showing up as being owed by you? If not, follow the steps listed above to get them to stop calling you. If so, dispute the charge with whichever credit reporting agency shows it on your report AND follow the steps to keep them from calling you. Also check out http://www.creditboards.com.

  8. Bourque77 says:

    Although I dont think anyone asked, why not more info on terminating cell phone contracts because we know everyone is having problems with it.

  9. acambras says:

    @Paul D:

    I’m not sure that would work, as so many places seem to use auto-dialers. Sometimes I’ll get a voicemail that’s a computer voice saying “Please hold for an important message.” And then a real person comes on the line, saying “Hello? Hello?” So I doubt a real person would even hear the outgoing message that you advised Kerry to try using (in the example I mentioned, anyway).

  10. kerry says:

    I have caller ID and I’d try calling them back if I could understand what the robot says the name is. It’s almost always unintelligible. It’s clearly not the same thing every time, and it’s not any of my neighbors (I live in a 3 unit building). Also, the number’s not mine, it’s my boyfriend’s (I ditched my landline number when we moved in together, since I have a cell phone and he doesn’t). He’s been getting these calls for years, always for random people who are not him. I should tell him to get a credit report, now that you mention it.

  11. healthdog says:

    I had CitiBank call several times a day for a month, asking me to hold for an important account notification. I don’t have any dealings with Citi, which I would explain to the operator. They would hang up and call back.

    I finally got one of them to transfer me to a supervisor who said that my phone number might be in the database by mistake, but oh well. She insisted that there was absolutely nothing they could do, and was unbelievably hostile. I finally got through to the next level of supervisor. He said there was nothing he could do. That’s when I told him that I was starting the recording.

    “Huh? What recording?”
    “Well, I have tried several times to get you to fix your mistake. Now I’m going to sue CitiBank. “
    “…It will be fixed within the hour, ma’am.”

  12. mad_oak says:

    COLLECTIONS!! Love em!!! Nothing like having a lousy $50 collection sold 3-4 times with each collector reporting a new $50 to the credit report!!! Even more fun, Deed in Lieu or Foreclosure??? I’ve seen lenders continue to report every month, years after they have taken the house. What does that do to your credit score??? Tanks it… What does it do when you try to get a FNMA loan??? Tanks it… cuz the automated underwriting system can’t tell the foreclosure is really X years old, it thinks it happened last month!

  13. Hm. I’m not an attorney (yet), but I live in MI, where in order for a recorded call to be admissible as evidence, both parties must have been notified that a recording was taking place. Which leaves me with two questions:

    1. That doesn’t mean you “can’t record”, as another attorney explained to me; in fact you can record anything you want, and even use the recording during various phases of threatening / bargaining with the other party…it just isn’t admissible evidence. True?

    2. In almost every call center, they record calls AND there’s a message notifying you, the caller, that you’re being recorded. Since the other party involved is working in the call center, they can reasonably expect that all of their calls are being recorded. So you already have the notice you need to legally (admissibly) record the call. In fact, my attorney advised me to notify the rep that I was recording only as a way of getting the rep to behave — If you actually intend to sue, he said, don’t tell them anything. They already have their notification, and you’re more likely to catch them doing something stupid if you don’t warn ’em. Also true?