Obsessive Debt Collectors Mixed My Roommate Up With Some Other Guy

Curt says his roommate can’t shake a pushy debt collector who won’t get it through his head that he mixed up his identity with some guy who owes AT&T for DSL service. He contacted AT&T but the company seems unwilling/unable to call off the dogs.

He writes:

My name is Curt and I have (or rather, my roommate has) a rather curious and serious issue. First, the back story. A long while back, he got a call from a collection agency acting on behalf of AT&T for an amount that he DEFINITELY did not owe. He decided to contact AT&T directly, and found that the charges were related to DSL service in Pittsburgh. We do not, and have never lived in or had AT&T service in any way in Pittsburgh.

After probing AT&T a bit, he found a bit more interesting information. The person who actually owes the money has the same last 4 digits in their SSN, and shares a first name with his father. This could clearly be an accounting error, at best. For what it’s worth, AT&T was as helpful as they could be, and were sympathetic and polite, but there was a lot of inter-departmental referrals going on because the AT&T side of AT&T and the SBC side of AT&T only barely have their books together (at least at that point). After talking to people on both sides for days straight, my roommate was informed by an AT&T rep who he had been working with from the beginning that the error had been fixed, and the money was no longer his debt. And the collections calls stopped. Happy ending?

Not so. The collections calls have begun again, and the collectors are VERY aggressive. How can my roommate get rid of this false debt? Does he contact AT&T or the collector? And what does he say? He fears that if he goes through the same arduous process again, it will just start back up for a third time. We want this debt gone, free and clear and legally. We do not owe it. And we are at a loss.

If you’re being phone-stalked by a debt collector — even for debt that’s your own — be sure to brush up on your rights. If a debt collector contacts you, you can ask for proof of the debt: an application for the debt with your signature on it.


Edit Your Comment

  1. JMILLER says:

    If ATT has handled it, all you need to do to the collector is send them a letter saying you dispute the debt and the debt had been cleared per your conversations with ATT. Tell them you expect all future communications to be sent return receipt requested. Make sure you send the copy with a signature required. Once they receive it, they have 30 days to resolve the issue with the original debtor. Be clear you will not discuss the matter over the telephone and mention that in your letter. At the end, I would also say, you expect a return letter verifying what they have done to fix this situation, or you plan to take further action on such and such a date.

    • DariusC says:

      If this is indeed not his debt and just an error, I would simply block the numbers and forget about it. If they take you to court, let them know you are not that person. ATT will have spent the money to file the claim and the lawyers to show up and they will have no case.

      If indeed your roommate does not owe… That is my solution. Let me know if this is the incorrect way to go about it, I just posted the easiest, non-obligatory way to handle it. Really isn’t any business of this guy to prove he doesn’t owe the debt.

      Innocent until proven guilty?

  2. TouchMyMonkey says:

    We used to get a lot of calls from debt collectors looking for some guy who has the same last four numbers in his phone number. Seems the guy was sticking our prefix on the number he’d give out to people he didn’t want to talk to. We’d start giving out the correct number, and suddenly the calls stopped.

  3. Skellbasher says:

    There’s no point in really pursuing this with with AT&T. They’re said your roommate doesn’t owe them anything, and they’re not calling about it.

    As far as the collectors, send them a letter demanding that they provide proof that the debt is yours. In that same letter, demand that they cease contacting you. Once that is done, they can only contact you to provide proof that the debt is valid (which they wouldn’t have) , or to confirm that they got the letter and will no longer contact you.

    Then, start keeping records. Every letter, every phone call. If they keep calling you after you’ve told them not to (IN WRITING), they’re racking up FDCPA violations that you can sue them for.

    • Rectilinear Propagation says:

      Also send these letters by certified mail. You’ll want proof that they got the letters.

    • jnads says:


      If they contact you after sending the letter, you can sue them for $1000. Free money.

      Remember to send the letter, signed, via certified mail so you can prove you sent it.

      • FredKlein says:

        Unfortunately, a Return Receipt just shows you send an envelope, not what (if anything) was in the envelope.

        • mac-phisto says:

          why are people spreading this rumor around lately? it’s total BS. what judge is going to buy the argument “your honor, this certified letter was empty – EMPTY, i tell you!”

          certified mail is routinely used as evidence of notification in court.

          • edison234 says:

            Then get a large envelope and write the letter on the envelope.

          • Humward says:

            Exactly — the law is not an ass. If someone sent you an envelope, return receipt requested, and put nothing in it, a reasonable person would contact the sender and say “hey, got an envelope from you, there was nothing in it.” If they don’t have evidence that they did so, a judge is going to be very, very skeptical about the claim.

    • BluePlastic says:

      This is really the best course of action. Sounds to me like shady debt collection companies are selling this debt around amongst themselves and, since they really don’t go out of their way to find correct and up-to-date information for their actual target, any name that semi matches that they can find will do.

  4. Chris W. says:

    I had a similar problem with AT&T when I started receiving letters and phone calls looking for my daughter-who at two years old-was claimed to owe AT&T $400-some odd dollars for a land line in Florida (we live in Virginia and she’s never been to Florida let alone traveled through time long enough to age and order phone service).

    I also conversed with the collectors and AT&T security, and it sure enough, they had my daughter’s SSN attached to this, her full name, and everything. Did I mention the charges began before she was even born?

    I never found out exactly, but after several phone calls and Consumer-esque certified mail letters, I got the impression that someone simply made up a SSN at the time they ordered service, and this made up SSN was eventually assigned to my daughter when she was born out of pure coincidence. The charges were eventually removed.

    • Link_Shinigami says:

      How was it to her full name though? ATT doesn’t just get to magic there way with a SSN to all your personal info unless it’s in their system already. If it was entered before she was born, then her name wouldn’t be tied to it.

      What it sounds like really happened is that someone cheated it, somehow got a hold of your newly born daughters info and called ATT and played the whole “This info is all incorrect! The guy must have misheard on the phone/in store/etc!” and they changed it. I had friends that worked for ATT and the tools they used weren’t “Plop SSN in, magic info”, likewise, they wouldn’t of been able to change the account info unless someone called them and told them too.

      I hope you got the police involved with this because there was probably more to this than you are aware of.

      • SBR249 says:

        It could be that somewhere along the line, a name (the child’s) was associated with a (what was until then) totally made up SSN. I can see that happening.

        For example, John Doe makes up an SSN that he thought was fake and uses a fake name to open an account. Some company reports that debt to the credit bureau which can’t verify the fake name but runs the SSN through the system and hits upon the child’s name. Naturally, the credit bureau can then correct the fake name on the account to the name that the SSN was legitimately assigned to. And then bingo, the child now has a debt in her name. All this is hypothetical of course.

      • 451.6 says:

        Sometimes the wires can get crossed if the information is at all similar. When I turned 18, I tried to get a basic Macy’s card to establish some credit since I shopped there often. I was rejected. It turns out that I was getting mixed up with my sister because our SSNs had 5 digits in common and we had the same last name, even though she’d moved out years earlier. When I tried to request my free credit report, the bureaus pulled my older sister’s credit report, and she had really horrendous credit. I was a ghost in the system. It was such a PITA trying to get it all fixed until my mother put me on one of her credit cards. Presto! You can haz a credit history.

  5. Sudonum says:

    Write them a letter telling them that the person they are seeking is in no way connected to your address or phone number. If they continue to believe that your room mate is the person that owes the debt they then have to provide proof. I would not ask for proof of debt until you have given them written notice that you are not the person they’re looking for.
    Here’s a link to a letter I’ve used to great effect in the past.http://www.privacyrights.org/Letters/debt6.htm

    Keeping in mind that IANAL and YMMV.

  6. NarcolepticGirl says:

    This happened to me with an AT&T cell phone bill that showed up on my credit report.
    I disputed it and within two weeks it came off.

    I still don’t understand why people answer the phone when someone they don’t recognize is calling. Goes straight to voicemail for me.

    • smo0 says:

      Somehow, I have a bill in collections from AT&T in my name for $1200.
      I never had AT&T. I’ve had T-Mobile since 2002 and it’s in my dad’s name.

      • Link_Shinigami says:

        For fun, call ATT, tell them to search their system via your SSN, or go into a store if you want it to be safer(Not that it’s not any more or less safe, but you might not trust saying it over the phone), and ask them about this. It could get easily cleared up or you might find someone is pulling credit fraud on you.

    • Jimmy60 says:

      I don’t have call display on my land line. All callers look the same to me. I don’t have voice mail or an answering machine on it either. If I’m home and you call, you get to talk to me regardless of who you are. LOL

      My cell phone is a different story, however.

  7. AnonymousCoward says:

    This kind of thing is totally common, because debt collectors will latch onto any bit of information the have to try to find people who don’t want to be found. It can be really annoying, because you can’t even use the FDCPA to get them to stop, because that requires the account number. Since it isn’t your account, you probably don’t have the number.

    I had this happen to me once. I got a new cell phone, and the second it was activated, I started getting calls for Nicole, from all sorts of collections folk. I managed to get rid of all but one by explaining that this was a new (to me) number, and Nicole didn’t have it anymore. The last one, however, was robodialing me a couple of times a day. If I didn’t answer the phone, they would just fill my voicemail. If I did answer the phone and talk to someone, it did no good. After several months of this, I finally googled the number, got the name and address of the collection agency in NY state, and filed a complaint with the NY state BBB, providing my phone number and all the information I had. After about six weeks, I got an email from the BBB, asking if my problem had been resolved. The same minute as I got the email, I got the last call from the collection agency. Never had a problem since.

    It’s an idea, anyway…

    • oldwiz65 says:

      Why send anything to the BBB? They have zero power. The smart thing is the Attorney General’s office or a federal agency.

    • Shadowfax says:

      It’s easy to get the number. Ask the guy who claims you have the debt. After all, if it’s really your debt, he’ll be able to give you that info, yes?

  8. JohnnyP says:

    Tell them its a business number and ask that they not call it again…. It will stop the calls but it may not fix it.

  9. sonneillon says:

    Get a tape recorder and an adapter, costs about 30 bucks. Or software if you have a smart phone or use skype.

    Ask the debt collector lots of questions about who he is and why he is calling you after you told him to stop. Tell him to stop calling you. Make sure to catch him on several Fair Debt Collection violations because if it is only 1 or 2 incidental violations the courts may let it go.

    Take him to small claims court for 500 dollars a violation.

    • sgtyukon says:

      You protect your rights under federal law with certified mail, not an audio recording. Plus, in some states it’s legal to record a conversation if only one person knows it’s being recorded, but in other states both parties must know it’s recorded. If you tell them you’re recording, they’ll hang up. If you don’t tell them it might not be admissable in court and could get you in trouble. Plus, some people, me included, can make you say anything at all on a recording provided we have enough recordings of you saying things we can cut apart and splice together, so an audio recording isn’t very good evidence when push comes to shove.

      • Firethorn says:

        In some states the ‘this call may be monitored/recorded’ pre-robo saying also authorizes YOU to record.

        Personally, I’d just say ‘I’m calling from a recorded line, if you do not agree, hang up now’.

  10. chimpski says:

    This happened to me for over a year! I was confused with someone else, not becuase of SSN but becuase we had the same first and last name.

    It was a nightmare. Even though, under the law, I have NO RIGHT to tell them to stop contacting me becuase I am not the person in questions, I still sent them “drop dead” letters, and it worked… somewhat.

    After a couple of months the phone calls ended, but the collection letters did not. It seemed like every time I sent a “drop-dead” letter or “prove it was me” letter they would simple sell it some other debt collector.

    Eventually I got served with court papers, that’s when I actually found out that they were looking for someone with my same name. I called the clerk of courts and explained my situations, and she told me to write her a letter explaining it. The worst thing was that papers they served contained all kinds of private information on the person they were looking for: full SSN for him and his spouse, previous addresses, DOB. Everything someone would need to steal their identity, if it wasn’t already.

    Eventually, the debt collectors messed up, and sent me a notice after I had told them to stop contacting me. Again, even though I was not the person, if they were treating me like the person I was going to take advantage of “my rights”. I got a letter apologizing, and they’ve never contacted me again.

    Hope you can learn something from my experience.

    • chimpski says:

      Writing a little bit too fast there, sorry for the errors.

      Also left out some thoughts at the end:
      So the SAME company contacted me after I told them not to. I used that as an FDCPA violation to leverage them to fix their problem instead of passing the buck. I sent them a letter, contacted BBB, state’s attorney, and FTC. I also told them in the letter of everyone I had contacted and I even went to the courthouse to file suit in small claims against them. I didn’t actually file but filled everything out as if I was and made copies. I sent them that too, and said I would be filing if they didn’t fix the problem within 30 days.

      Eventually got a letter from them, apologizing, saying the fixed it, and I’ve never heard from them since. It has been over 3 years now. I still keep an eagle eye on my credit reports though.

  11. BannedInBrittan says:

    your roomie got skipped traced :) Send the collector a certified mail Cease and Desist letter. If they continue to call log the calls or record them. Sue them, win money.

  12. AK47 - Now with longer screen name! says:

    OT: This cat is pretty popular today. Although I like the earlier, bug-eyed photo better. :)

  13. Inkheart says:

    Prop 8 was just overturned, it’s safe to call your “roommate” your partner now.

    • Big Mama Pain says:

      HAHA, I’m glad I wasn’t the only one thinking it. I wouldn’t have even hesitated to presume they were not roommates until he started saying “We want this debt gone” “We do not owe it”, etc.

    • rahntwo says:

      Yes, I thought the same thing as soon as I read the story.

  14. Duke_Newcombe-Making children and adults as fat as pigs says:

    1) Read federal FDCPA (Fair Debt Collection Practices Act), and for your state, if there is one.
    2) Document/record phone calls, the originating company, times, dates, what was said.
    3) Small claims court. Take them there
    4) Profits!! (at least $1,000/occurence)

  15. Awesome McAwesomeness says:

    Sounds like AT&T went ahead and sold the debt and didn’t bother to change the information. Scuzzy? Sure it is.

    It sounds like the aforementioned advice of making them validate the debt, etc… is the best course of action at this point.

  16. Levk says:

    I would get a lawyer and sue really, they are harassing you for a debt you do not own tell em again and ask em for proof if they keep calling get a lawyer and end it

  17. Dopaz says:

    Simple, Cease & Desist letter.

  18. Caveat says:

    Because I was assigned the phone number of a person in debt some agency started calling me quite often. Saying that the person they were seeking was not at the number got me nowhere. Eventually I just played along. I used a bad foreign accent and made fun of everything I was being told. When I went on trips to Las Vegas and Hawaii I would call them on their toll free number to tell them that I could not possibly pay my debt because I had spent my money on the vacations. Eventually a supervisor became very irate and perhaps decided to investigate further. Then the phone calls stopped, and my satisfaction is that they spent time and money barking up the wrong tree while amusing me.

  19. rahntwo says:

    Every four to six months I get a call or two from bill collectors looking for a man who is the son of the man my ex-wife married 22 years ago. When they ask for him I say “Who? Never heard of him.” Sometimes I must call their company and tell them I’ve never heard of him, and then it stops. Also, we recently changed service from Nextel to Verizon and my 10 year old daughters new phone number immediately started being called by some collectors. I called the numbers back and VERY politely and friendly told them the situation and they haven’t called back since. You folks, when you have to deal with these jerks, the nicer you are, the more likely they are to help you. If you call up and act like a butt, I probably wouldn’t help you either. Always be nice!

  20. rahntwo says:

    Another thing I found that worked… Every two or three months I get this green postcard in an envelop in the mail wanting me to fill in my home phone and work phone number and send the card back if I am interested in their homeowners insurance. I have tried every way I can think of to find them without spending money, but their address is a PO box in Dallas. The last time I received one, I looked up the numbers to the FBI and the Dallas Police fraud department and I wrote those two numbers on the card and sent it back to them. I haven’t heard back from them in over a year.

  21. XUnderwriter says:

    I was bombarded with phone calls about past due bills for someone with the same name as me but a different spelling, and they called non stop. So I went and bought an air horn for about $3 at my local sporting good store, and when those idiots called to tell me all the steps they can take to make me pay……I would uh huh, oh my gosh, can I tell you something you have the wrong person. Then they would either apologize and that was the end of it or they would ignore my attempt to end this call ….and once I knew the jerk didnt care he had the wrong person I would grab the ear shattering air horn and insert my earplugs then (probably) smile as I pictured them with the little headsets on have a ear drum rupture.

    Its been so long since I had a live person call they have a computer that plays a message to call them regarding business with their company, they all must have got smart. I’m semi scared to answer my phone wondering if one day they will get their own air horn and blast my eardrum when I answer.

  22. Sanshie says:

    Even if you can shut down this particular collection agency, it will happen again each time the debt is sold to a new company. We had this problem when debt collectors were calling our house looking for my husband’s first wife. We could successfully convince the collectors that they had the wrong place, but next time a new agency got their hands on the debt it would start all over again. Eventually the debts got old enough that all collection agencies stopped calling.

    Side note: USAA handled this fabulously. As soon as we told them they were pissing off the Second Wife (and current USAA member) they shut down ALL calls on the First Wife’s debt.

  23. Bohemian says:

    This is why you never ever talk to a debt collector (your debt, a bogus debt, someone else’s debt) on the phone. Only correspond in writing. Your not obligated to take phone calls from these vermin. Just block them on your phone or don’t answer unknown numbers.

  24. Fair&Balanced says:

    I’m confused???
    If they call for John smith and your roomate is named bob whatever why do you think it is his debt???

  25. The Marionette says:

    When you check your credit online, if you see that dept collector on your credit you can have it disputed and explain it to them and they can possibly remove it that way. Then if it gets cleared up and the collectors are still calling you could have proof it was cleared and if need be sue them for harassment.

  26. Hoss says:

    I had a situation w AT&T debt collectors just last month. They repeatedly left phone messages on our line meant for a neighbor who moved a few years ago. They were obviously hoping we would contact them and give information about the former neighbor. Instead I filed a complaint with our attorney general (I did this on-line) and mailed a copy of the complaint to them. I have not heard from them again. The complaint stated that by identifying themselves as debt collectors and giving the neighbor’s name, they were revealing confidential financial information

    You can get their address either from a reverse look-up on-line, or one of the “who’s calling” websites.

  27. KennyS says:

    Keep it simple. Last May I sent a certified signature required letter to a Debt Collector (We are both in NY) saying this:
    1. Send me proof of the debt.
    2. Send me proof that you are authorized to collect this debt.
    3. Send me proof that you are licensed in New York to collect this debt.
    4. Stop calling me.
    I haven’t heard from them since.

  28. oldwiz65 says:

    Often the debt collectors are bottom feeders who totally ignore any fair debt collection laws and simply continue to hound people. If you try to go through legal channels they simply ignore it or go out of business and re-open under a different name. Worse yet debts are often resold so that the collector who calls you bought the debt from another bottom feeder who got closed down by the feds. It’s still worth it to try the proper remedies such as demanding proof of debt, but be aware that the debt collectors hired by so many large companies have dubious ethics.