Collectors, Stop Harrassing Me About Mom's Debt

Michele keeps getting nasty letters and phone calls from debt collectors trying to get her to pay for her mother’s debt. One of them told her the local police had said she “should be arrested” and another pretended to be from the U.S. Department of Education. How does she get them to stop?

Michele writes:

For the last five or so years, I’ve had debt collectors harassing me through mail and even phone, although the latter has been mostly eliminated by me dropping my landline and almost never answering a call if I don’t recognize the area code. The first calls came at my weekend job in college, and the woman on the other end claimed I owed thousands in student loans. I was confused at first and wondered if I might have some liability for loans my mother took out for my education, even though they were in her name. I think I even told the collector something ridiculous like, “Uh, let me get back to you.” After checking with my mom, she said confidently that she and only she signed off on these loans. She’s reiterated this several times since then. I have no recollection of signing anything, and she didn’t forge my signature on anything.

The problem is, my mom filed for bankruptcy after my freshman year of college, due to being in over her head after my parents divorced. A couple of years later, I started getting calls. When I try to claim I was going to talk to my lawyer or the police, to get the harassment to stop, the woman on the other end claimed they had already talked to police and the local police said I “should be arrested.” I ended up filing a harassment report with police because the vultures wouldn’t stop calling me at work. It didn’t do a lot of good, since the vultures were several states away. But it did at least make me feel slightly better.

I have never been served with any sort of lawsuit for this money I supposedly owe, probably because it’s not my freakin’ debt. I suspect it has been sold and the debt collectors either don’t know or don’t really care. My mother feels bad about all this, and advises me that if they had any sort of legal leg to stand on, I’d be getting a lot more than letters from shady agencies in Ohio or Round Rock, Texas. I’ve gotten good at spotting these types of letters and throwing them into the trash without reading a word, but occasionally one sneaks up on me, like the letter I got recently claiming the U.S. Department of Education “holds a claim against you for the following student loan(s), which it intends to collect by Treasury offset.” Interesting, since the U.S. Department of Education isn’t the one sending me the letter.

My credit report also sucks, and while I contested about a dozen things with Experian over the summer, they only saw fit to take a couple of things off. I’m debating whether or not to contest reports with the other two agencies, but it really makes no sense to me that I have to contest that I don’t have a credit card account in collections from 1997 (when I was in junior high). They can put anything they want on there and the burden is on me to ask them to remove it, and I have no idea what their “investigation” into my dispute is like. The system is so unbelievably tilted against the consumer that the best you can hope for is a tie, and even that’s unlikely. You will never be able to win. I’ve hesitated to respond to these letters claiming I owe money because I don’t want to engage them unless absolutely necessary and/or I think it would get me anywhere.

It’s been 7 years since my mom filed for bankruptcy. I understand some education loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy, but I neither filed bankruptcy nor took out any of the loans (my mom, however, has had her salary garnished by the government for some non-dischargeable loans). I did take out some loans in college, and I am paying them off each and every month without fail. I sort of feel like there’s nothing I can do except wait it out, and I know there are people with a lot bigger problems than the occasional threatening letter. But it’s not right, and I’m sick of it. I’m aware what they’re doing is almost certainly illegal, but I don’t feel like the system gives me much power to make them stop, especially since I can’t afford a lawyer right now. Any advice would be welcome.

Michele, continue to contest the credit reports with all the agencies. It’s not enough to do it with just one.

When collectors contact you, ask them in writing to send you proof that you have the debt and proof that they own it. That should shut most of them up. Those that don’t, you might be able to fairly easily sue in small claims court for statutory violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and get some nice cash out of it. This guy has made a profitable hobby out of doing just that.