How to check up on a caller claiming to be a debt collector?
August 23, 2009 3:42 PM   Subscribe

A debt collector keeps calling me with automated messages asking me to call them back during business hours and confirm my identity. As far as I know I have no debts. How can I find out if this is legit, not a scam, etc?

The name of the debt collector is MRS Associates. They have a real website and they have a lot of complaints filed against them on the BBB website. I am leery of calling them back and giving them any kind of personal information to find out if I do have some debt I don't know about. What is the best course of action in this situation?
posted by AceRock to Work & Money (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Ignore them and perhaps file a complaint with the Do Not Call registry. Also, get a copy of your credit report and read it carefully. Anything wrong or even just fishy, get on the horn and fix it fast.
posted by scratch at 3:46 PM on August 23, 2009

That's an easy one.

* call them back (doesn't matter now, they have your number anyway)
* ask him what kind of debt they have for your name? (I would not disclose my SSN)
Tell them that it is bogus and tell them not to call again.
* Get the free credit reports you are entitled to once a year (google!). Report any bogus items.
* Get a or any other phone number ( and NEVER give out your home or cell for an order or registration.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 3:49 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

We get a few of these for a month for the person that lived in our apartment (three residences ago) before us. I'm not sure what the mechanism is that still ties us to him in the eyes of debt collectors but I suspect he's quite the deadbeat given the broad range of collection calls and certified mail (always refused) we've gotten for him. After three or four calls from the same agency, I'll call them, ask for their company name and phone number, and then explain that we have no association with him and to please not call us again. I've only had trouble once, at which point, I told the caller that my next contact was the state attorney general, which took care of that particular situation.
posted by mrmojoflying at 4:02 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I kept getting messages to call back a collection agency once and I knew I didn't have any debts. I finally called them back to get rid of them. All I gave them was my name and they didn't ask me for any other ID info. Turns out, they were looking for someone who lived down the street from me and they thought I might know him and let them know how to get in touch with him. ???!!! I asked how they got my phone number and they said they did a "reverse" phone number search based on my address (as well as others on the street). I told them I had no idea who the person was (the truth) and they left me alone after that.

Kinda creepy but I guess it was legit. So, it could be something like that where you're not even who they really want but I would NOT give them any other ID or information.
posted by ourroute at 4:20 PM on August 23, 2009

I'd call them back, but don't reveal any personal information that they don't already have. You know they already have your name and telephone number, so you have nothing to lose by giving those to the person who answers the phone (so they can look up the information relevant to your alleged debts). Refuse to give them any other information until you're satisfied it's legit.

It probably is a scam, but if you play your cards this way, you can find out for sure without risking anything. If they insist they can't look up your stuff unless you provide more information, hang up and report them.
posted by ixohoxi at 4:25 PM on August 23, 2009

According to the debt collectors depicted in the movie Maxed Out, if you respond to automated dunning in any way you will be flagged for more intensive efforts by the live agents.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:25 PM on August 23, 2009

Do they use your name when they leave a message asking you to confirm your identity? If not, then you are absolutely right to be leery of giving them *any* information whatsoever. Don't.

Assuming they're just fishing for someone who might have lived at your address in the past, I would call and ask them to tell me who it is they're looking for. If they refuse or ask you who you are first, simply tell them they are calling you, and ask them again, politely, who it is they're looking for. "I am not going to give you any personal information whatsoever until you tell me who you are looking for. I don't have time for games and if you refuse to identify yourselves and your reason for calling, my next call will be to report this number to my state Attorney General's office" (I think AG's are a better threat than the BBB). When they tell you who they're looking for, if it's not you, tell them the person they are looking for doesn't live there and hasn't for X years, and say if they call you again, your next call will be to your state Attorney General's office.

On the off chance it is in fact you they are looking for, ask them for details about the specific debt and amount they're calling about, then go from there, depending on whether it's a valid collection or not.
posted by mediareport at 4:29 PM on August 23, 2009

Response by poster: Hey everyone, thanks for the advice. I think I will call and just not give them any info while trying to figure out what debt they might be talking about.

I don't know if this changes things, but they are calling my cellphone not my landline, which I just realized is extra weird.
posted by AceRock at 4:33 PM on August 23, 2009

NEVER. EVER. EVER. Talk to a debt collector on the phone. If they want to contact you; they have your mailing address. Anythign they say on the phone will be recorded and used against you in court if they have a valid claim and you don't pay, and will not be anything you can leverage.

The only reason to ever call a debt collector is to have them remove your number from a list. Never identify yourself.
posted by SirStan at 4:40 PM on August 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Don't give them your name, only your phone number. We had one of these calling us when we still had a land line. The debt was for someone else entirely and they had our phone number by mistake. These people can be really pushy assholes. Don't let them get away with it.

Debt Collection FAQs: A Guide for Consumers
posted by zinfandel at 5:46 PM on August 23, 2009

Pull your credit reports and take a look at your accounts on the reports and ensure you're in the clear before calling anyone.
posted by jerseygirl at 7:35 PM on August 23, 2009

I've been getting phone calls for about three years now for a person with the same first and last name (but a different middle initial, mailing address, and SSN). I get calls from live debt collectors all the time, and, more recently, I've started getting phone calls that either say, 'if you are X, then stay on the line' (sometimes with a sly warning that 'if you stay on the line, you are acknowledging that you owe this debt') or 'please call [number] to discuss your debt.' Either way, I have no debt, and I don't owe an explanation to these bullying creditors. My advice to you is 1) definitely order at least one of the three free credit reports that you are allowed each year. Check that for anything remotely suspicious. If it's clean, the creditors are just scavenging to collect on someone else's old debts. 2) Do not call them back. You don't owe them any explanations, and the less you say to them, the better. I know you're thinking that one phone call will clear this up and you'll never hear from them again, but that's not always how it works. It's kind of like how trying to 'unsubscribe' from a spam email may not necessarily stop the spam. You'll do better just hanging up and, maybe, keeping a log of these recordings (in case the threats escalate). 3) On the off-chance that you DO call (or if you get a call from a real live person asking for you), you definitely don't want to give any personal information, but be prepared for them to bully you (some are nicer than others). When I refuse to give my SSN, I get 'that's because you actually ARE the person who owes this money and you're guilty!' I've never been a good phone person, so at that point I start stammering around their accusations, which makes the whole thing look worse.

I totally agree with SirStan: If you have to communicate with the debt collectors, you want it to be in writing NOT over the phone. Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (as linked originally by zinfandel), you have the right to insist that all communication is in writing. Don't give an address; just tell them to send whatever information they think they have on you to whatever address they have in their computer. There's a good chance they don't have your address anyway.
posted by Mael Oui at 8:15 PM on August 23, 2009

Hey, DON'T call them back, they do NOT have your number; they have an automated phone dialer that is calling thousands of people, hoping for a live fish to answer. No legit debt collector would be calling you with an automated message. Don't begin to make yourself vulnerable by letting them know you are a live, reachable person; and don't ever get into conversation with a potential scammer, no matter how much you think you can control your end of the discussion.
posted by Bet Glenn at 9:25 PM on August 23, 2009

Yeah, actually, I think the folks saying "never respond to an automated message" are totally right. Sorry for steering you wrong with my previous answer, but responding to an automated message does seem like a really bad idea.
posted by mediareport at 9:45 PM on August 23, 2009

What Mediareport said. It's one thing if you answer and end up talking to a live person, but don't respond to their phishing. Pull your credit reports just the same.
posted by jerseygirl at 5:42 AM on August 24, 2009

Are they asking for you by name? If not, it may be a debt for someone who used to have your phone number, or who had a very similar phone number and someone transposed some digits.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:12 PM on August 24, 2009

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