How to stop collection agency harassment?
February 19, 2006 3:11 PM   Subscribe

Collection agency harassment: they have the wrong person!

My girlfriend just had a frightening series of phone calls. First, the caller called and hung up after she answered. He called back a few minutes later and claimed to be from a collection agency looking for someone neither of us have ever heard of. He assumed my girlfriend was lying and was very belligerent. She got his name and phone number, and he said he works for Steale Collections in Saint Paul, MN, with a fishy PO Box address (90210) in Oakdale, MN. The collector said that he had called this number a few weeks ago and spoken to the man he was looking for. My girlfriend has had her phone number for over two years. She never even lived in Minnesota, but got a Twin Cities number so she would be a local call while I was in college there. We both live in Iowa now.

A few minutes after the second call, he called back and said he called his target's former secretary and had the phone number confirmed. He said he would be able to call someone he knows at my girlfriend's cellphone provider to get her address and just show up in person to collect. He also said he would keep trying until the debt was paid.

The cellphone provider says her registration is in order and her only option is to change her number.

The local police say not to answer anymore (the number showed up as unknown).

I couldn't find any record of this agency online. A reverse lookup of the phone number he gave only shows that it's a Qwest number near Saint Paul. The Post Office is closed until Tuesday so we can't try to find out more about the PO Box. Are PO Box registrations anonymous?

Are there any other options or agencies to report this to? Should my girlfriend have to change her phone number? Do collection agencies really work on Sundays?
posted by stopgap to Work & Money (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Jesus Christ. They said they were going to track down her address and come to her house, and the cops' response was "Just don't answer the phone"? Seriously? Damn, I'd go back to the police station and ask to speak to someone else, and file a harrassment report. Collection people can get a little overzealous at times, but that's going way too far.

Have you tried calling the number (perhaps from a different phone) and asking to speak to a supervisor? It may not be a legitimate collection agency, but that might be a way of getting more information about it.
posted by Gator at 3:18 PM on February 19, 2006

See also (I know it's not your state, but it's apparently theirs -- might be worth making a call to the number at the bottom of the page).
posted by Gator at 3:27 PM on February 19, 2006

Stopgap, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act regulates what bill collectors can and cannot do. Check out ยง 806, "Harassment or abuse [15 USC 1692d]. It prohibits: "The use or threat of use of violence or other criminal means to harm the physical person, reputation, or property of any person," as well as "Causing a telephone to ring or engaging any person in telephone conversation repeatedly or continuously with intent to annoy, abuse, or harass any person at the called number."

It seems like filing a suit would require a lot of time and energy, as would retaining a lawyer to deal with the collection agency. I would suggest answering the phone, mentioning the FDCPA, saying that you've involved the police, and demanding an accurate P.O. or phone number. If that fails, try contacting the Iowa and Minnesota Attorney General and State's Attorney offices, as well as the Better Business Bureau in each state.

Caveat emptor: IANAL, and have never dealt with a collection agency.
posted by jed at 3:27 PM on February 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Possibly bad advice, possibly fun advice:
You can't pay this supposed debt without a real address. Next time, put yourself (a man) on the phone and act like you intend to pay this debt. Get an address. Change your number. Give the police this address.
posted by cior at 3:43 PM on February 19, 2006

'Steale' Collections... as in, like, 'steal collections'? It's pretty hard to believe that's the name of a legit collection agency.
posted by beniamino at 3:49 PM on February 19, 2006

Wait, so this guy has called a grand total of 3 times and you're wasting time trying to track him down and shit? The police are right, you're just trying to amuse yourself.

This has nothing to do you you, you let him know as much, just ignore him. He'll go away.
posted by trevyn at 3:58 PM on February 19, 2006

Tell them flatly not to contact you any further. Any future calls will be violations of the FDCPA as above - legit collections agencies will not call any further. At that point, you can deal with them as with any annoyance caller - dial *57 immediately after any annoyance calls, and then call the phone company to report a harassing call. *57 will record the calling phone number at the phone companies' end for future phone company or police use. Don't talk to them, just hang up and *57.

My guess is they won't call back. The guy was just adopting a series of lies and scare tactics, but probably he realizes that he has a bad lead on this debt and will find another way to locate the real target. Quite possibly it was just a crank.
posted by jellicle at 3:58 PM on February 19, 2006

er, that's "with you".
posted by trevyn at 3:58 PM on February 19, 2006

beniamino: I dunno, there's a "Grimm Collections" in Tumwater WA. That always struck me as kind of bizarre.

Not quite as funny as "Stoner Accounting" in Olympia WA (the mental picture is precious), but it seemed like an unusually appropriate name.
posted by Captain_Tenille at 4:06 PM on February 19, 2006

My business line always seems to get calls for persons responsible to collection agencies. I get about two a month. I always write down the 800 number and the extension left in the voice mail then call them back and explain I am full name X from Y company and that is a corporate line and this person does not work here nor do I know them. They always respectfully apologize and remove my number. I've never received a second call after I've informed them of their mistake.

Perhaps not help, but how it should be for a measure.
posted by sled at 4:11 PM on February 19, 2006

OK, if it's a real collections agency, then what has happened is that they have paid a third party for the rights to the debt for pennies on the dollar. They're betting that they can scare enough people with threats (usually a bad credit report, but they'll say just about anything) into paying their debt to defray the cost of buying it, as well as making a profit.

So, the time they spend attempting to administrate (call, harrass, etc) a single debt is time they could be spending doing the same on other debts. They have no costs beyond buying the debt and the time/energy they take to collect them.

What you need to do, then, is waste their time. If they waste enough time, they file the bad credit report and move on to collecting other debts.

Get them on the phone. Talk to them. Calmly explain that these aren't the droids they're looking for. Repeat yourself. They're never going to believe you, but do it anyway. Ask them how their day is going. Read the newspaper to them. Put the phone down next to the television and walk away. Hang up on them. But always be calm.

Eventually, you reach the magic number of calls where you're no longer "worth it" to them, and they walk away.

Caveat No. 1: This advice applies only if it's a real collection agency. If you determine something else is afoot, then call the police again and ask to speak to a watch commander or someone higher up than just the phone-answer guy.

Caveat No. 2: After this blows over, check your credit report. They may have the "wrong person" but they may have your credit information anyway. Make sure they don't extend their mistake to dinging your credit.
posted by frogan at 4:20 PM on February 19, 2006

He said he would be able to call someone he knows at my girlfriend's cellphone provider to get her address and just show up in person to collect.

A legit collections agency knows better than to do either of these. I vote stalker or unfunny prank. Call back the police if there's anymore contact whatsoever.

On the off chance it's a real collection agency, she has plenty of options:

1. Filing complaints with the FTC, Minnosota Attorney General, and/or Minnesota Department of Commerce. "Steale Collections" either is violating Minnesota Statute 332.33(1) since they don't have a MN collection agency license, or else have violated Minnesota Statute 332.37(16) by not providing the name as it actually appears on their license.

2. Sending a letter to the P.O. box demanding "validation of the debt". If received within 30 days, a real collector must comply.

3. Telling the "collector" to cease all ommunication. A real collector must comply (except for limited circumstances).

4. Yes, the post office can give you the forwarding address for a PO Box owner if you sign an affadavit swearing that it will be used only to serve process. Don't do this unless you actually are filing suit.

It would actually be good if it's a real agency. Without evidence that she (personally, not just some person at the other end of a phone number) is the debtor, their hands are tied. So don't let them under your/her skin.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 5:38 PM on February 19, 2006

Could be the real debtor gave him a false number.
posted by sophist at 6:12 PM on February 19, 2006

"Are there any other options or agencies to report this to? Should my girlfriend have to change her phone number? Do collection agencies really work on Sundays?"

Yes, they do work on Sundays. Collection agencies are pure scum and violate the FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act) freqently. They know that you think it's going to cost you to sue them, so they don't care. I have experienced this in the past personally.
Don't cower to them. They cannot threaten you as they have. Contact your local bar association and talk to them. There are quite a few lawyers that will take on such cases for free.
Stick it to the bastards. Don't change your phone number.
Stand firm with these pricks. Don't even be nice to them, either. Flat out tell them to go fuck themselves. They're just trying to use strongarm tactics to get you to pay some bogus debt. Heck, there are even places that buy old debt that's well beyond the statute of limitations and try to collect on it. It's a huge moneymaker these days. Where was I? Oh yes, back to these bastards.

Please file a police report and get a copy. I'd do that ASAP. At least get something documented, so if you do contact a lawyer, you have more ammo on your side.

Just because you can't find them online doesn't mean that they don't exist. Many of these slimeballs operate very well offline and don't show up in Google at all. They use different names, addresses, etc. Some of them are even side agencies owned by bottom feeding scumbag lawyers.

nakedcodemonkey has some excellent suggestions, but I disagree about the 'legit collections agency' bit. I've had perfectly legit collections agencies try to play hardball with me. Most of these people are complete pieces of shit. I have nothing but hatred towards them.
posted by drstein at 6:17 PM on February 19, 2006

I disagree about the 'legit collections agency' bit. No need. We're on the same page. What they can legally do and what they do do until called on it are often different things. But citing the relevant FCDPA right by section number tends to quiet things down considerably. So does cc'ing the state licensing agency. As frogan noted, collectors operate on a cost/benefit analysis. As it becomes obvious that pushing you will prove a costly gamble (up to $1000 per violation), they move on.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 6:27 PM on February 19, 2006

I wouldn't be surprised if it isn't Allied Interstate under another guise. These guys have been harassing consumers in MN and elsewhere. We were harassed by them and basically told them that it was nothing to do with us. Eventually - after a few months - they gave up. Other people have paid up just to keep them quiet. As others have said, they buy up old debt cheaply (well beyond the statute of limitations) and then harass the hell out of people. Ignore them. That really pisses them off.
posted by TheRaven at 7:43 PM on February 19, 2006

Weird. I'm also thinking 'scam' or 'stalker', as that sounds really out of bounds, even for collection agencies.

I've had two different situations where collection agencies called my phone, looking for someone else. Both times they were persistent, but polite.

One agency would call every morning, politely asking for a 'Dwayne'. When I said that there was no one by that number here, they'd hang up. After a month, I got to talking to them, and after convincing them that no, I wasn't covering for them, there really wasn't a 'Dwayne' here, they stopped calling. The second time, the person had my name, but I wasn't them. They merely looked me up in the phone book, and I guess started calling every instance of my name in the state, of which there aren't very many. Again, polite, and stopped calling when they realised they got the wrong person.
posted by spinifex23 at 12:17 AM on February 20, 2006

I live near Oakdale, and my mother-in-law works for the post office. Let me know if there's anything you need some leg-work on.
posted by Coffeemate at 6:11 AM on February 20, 2006

I've heard what agencies will say (old friend really did have debt that went into collections) and this doesn't sound like a scam, unfortunately. Shady and pushing their luck, yes, but not so much a prank or crank.
posted by desuetude at 6:34 AM on February 20, 2006

"Cease all communication with me. If you do not, I will press charges."

That's what it took to get a collection agency off of my former boss (when they were calling him at work). And here in Michigan (check Iowa's laws for similar) there's a fairly hefty penalty that's paid to YOU if they continue to harass you. Just like if you ask to be put on a Do Not Call list and continue to get telemarketers.
posted by klangklangston at 8:49 AM on February 20, 2006

Asking them to stop calling you won't work. You need to put it in writing.

I had an issue with a collections agency a while back, and I sent them a slightly modified version of this letter (I demanded their physical address; when they gave me a PO box, I said "UPS won't deliver to a PO box, I need an address where an employee collects packages from a delivery person"). They stopped calling, they never validated the debt, and they made a mark on my credit report. I then sent them an "intent to sue" notice, and the mark on my credit report disappeared, and the company was never heard from again.

There is nothing you can say or do over the phone (no matter what anyone else suggests, really) that will put a stop to it. They are required to give you their physical address; if they don't do it (they'll try to stick with a PO box, but insist on a physical address), they're not a collections agency. Mail them (UPS 2-day letter costs $10), and it'll stop. If it doesn't, sue them. You can't lose, if you can prove you sent a cease and desist/request for verification, and they never honored the requests.

Of course, based on the nature of the calls, I'd strongly suggest it's someone trying their hand at social engineering, and they're trying to track someone else down, and you're just a stranger caught in the middle.
posted by Merdryn at 9:15 AM on February 20, 2006

Thanks for all the responses. The guy called four times today and my girlfriend didn't answer. After going over the responses here, we made a list of options and she called him back. He said that he had found his target through another phone number and apologized. We will still probably pass on the collection agency's info to the MN Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division and maybe the Dept. of Commerce because the company name he gave my girlfriend is not listed as a company registered with the state.

Again, thanks for all the responses. They really helped my girlfriend get the confidence to deal with this guy again and call him back.
posted by stopgap at 5:06 PM on February 20, 2006

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