Reporting debt-based harassment to attorney general
June 11, 2008 6:54 AM   Subscribe

What's the best way to go about reporting a case of harassment from creditors for debts I don't owe?

I'm in Pennsylvania, USA. For the past two years, I have been threatened and harassed by various creditors for debts (at least three or four different ones) that aren't mine. They are in the name of a person who happens to have the same name (except middle initial) as me, but these companies have a different SSN and birthdate associated with the person and their debts. The person has mailing addresses (P.O. boxes) in my state, but I have never lived anywhere near the city those P.O.B.s are in. I have checked my credit report, and, so far, these threats have not affected my credit.

After two years, the phone calls and letters haven't stopped coming. I write disputes citing the FDCPA, and, for a while, things are quiet. Then, after a few months, I am contacted about a new debt. When I talk to someone on the phone, I do explain the full situation and tell them not to call me again, and they say that they'll remove my phone number from their database. I hadn't gotten a call since January, but I got a new one yesterday.

Here's my question: I've been told that I should report this entire issue to my state attorney general. Once I realized what was happening, I kept records of calls, and I have all my paperwork (letters received and sent) pertaining to this case. I was looking at the PA attorney general's website, and I don't really know how to go about reporting this. There is a consumer complaint form, but it doesn't seem to really apply to my situation. I've been procrastinating this step for a while, but I do want this taken care of. Or, at the very least, I want a paper trail started indicating that I have contacted some sort of governmental body disputing this entire situation. How would you handle this? Would you fill out the form (linked above), or would you write a separate letter? Or.. is it not worth it (Please don't tell me this.. This is affecting my physical and mental health; I need it to end already!)? I'm sorry if this is a really obvious or dumb question.. I'm clueless about how to deal with this whole situation, and I don't have anyone who can advise me.

[Also, I have asked questions relating to this issue in the past, and the information, help, and support I have received have been invaluable. I followed a lot of the advice given, and I'd be in a far worse place if I hadn't asked. So, even if no one has anything to say on this particular topic, I am so appreciative of everyone who has answered my questions in the past.]
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
While you shouldn't ignore it, there may not be much you can do to keep from occasionally recurring.

The basic problem is that there isn't one collector or one bad debt -- there are many of each. Every time your same-name-deadbeat defaults on a new obligation, and every time an old defaulted claim is sold or transfered, there's a new person, office, and/or company assigned to the debt, and your history of complaints and corrections is either ignored or not even available to the new collector. That new collector than starts a new effort to find the deadbeat and collect -- and finds you, all over again, and pursues you until persuaded or compelled to take you off the list.

(You should recognize that all of the tools that you are using to get the collectors off your back are regularly (ab)used by actual debtors to try to evade legitimate collection efforts, so collectors have a pretty high bar in terms of being persuaded or compelled.)

While this may be cold comfort, if you've managed to get the calls down to zero for five months, and have had no negative credit history or efforts to sue you, you're actually better off than many people who have the bad luck you've had.
posted by MattD at 7:50 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I had something similar when I lived in Texas. I came home after a long vacation to a note on my apartment door saying that they were going to repo my car. Humiliating considering it had hung on my door for days and it wasn't my debt. I did file with the Texas Attorney General. I'm not sure what the AGs office did, but I never got another phone call again/letter again.

I also filed a complaint against through the AG, that was resolved in a few weeks with AG help. This was after months of squabbling with Outpost myself. When Fry's acquired, Fry's paid me off simply to avoid dealing with the AG.

My advice is to file, if for no other reason that to tell creditors. "You have the wrong person. The Attorney Generals case number regarding this harassment is xyz."
posted by 26.2 at 8:24 AM on June 11, 2008

If you write to the collection agency and demand they stop contacting you, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act says they pretty much can't contact you ever again except to serve you with a lawsuit. This actually applies even if you weren't the wrong guy.

If they violate the FDCPA, you can sue them for $1000.

I'd also consider contacting the Federal Trade Commission
posted by meta_eli at 9:29 AM on June 11, 2008

Although I'm guessing you probably already read them, there is a lot of good advice in these previous similar questions.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:12 AM on June 11, 2008

The FDCPA also has a provision for statutory attorney's fees -- which basically means that you can get a free lawyer to sue them, if the case looks good enough. See or call your state bar referral line, and they can probably hook you up with a consumer lawyer for a consultation.
posted by paultopia at 4:10 PM on June 11, 2008

FYI, my grandmother is still getting harassing calls about my mother's debt (she was her mother-in-law) and my parents have been divorced since 1984. So short answer is, debts get sold to collection agencies, collection agencies are stupid and predatory, and it MIGHT never end, even if it's not you. Honestly, I had my identity stolen over 8 years ago and I still can't write a check myself, after all kinds of hullaballoo.

Is your phone number listed? If so, make sure it's not listed anywhere.

After joining and reading at length (which, by the way, is an AWESOME resource, please join if you haven't), it's basically 1. inform agent/collector that you are not person X, offer to fax/mail proof of your identity, and demand they stop calling; 2. if it happens again, tell them verbally that you have retained a lawyer and that if they call you again you will sue them for $1000 for harassing you; and 3. File with the Attorney General, and keep the filing info both at home, next to your home phone, and a copy at your office as well.

I have copies of my divorce papers and my criminal report showing my identity was stolen locked away pretty much everywhere I might have to deal with such things; for a while, I even had a box in my car with that stuff in it because I was getting pulled over and threatened with arrest, so you have my sympathy, I know what you're going through.

Being prepared is the only way to deal with it.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 5:58 PM on June 11, 2008

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