April 25, 2011 -- Every few weeks I answer questions from readers. It's that time again. This time around, many people asked about how to stop debt collector calls, after seeing a story I did for ABC's "World News." This is one of my all-time-favorite consumer tips, because there is an easy, satisfying solution, so read on!
Q: How do I stop the harassing and threatening phone calls from debt collectors? I have been getting numerous calls and they are very, very rude. The debts they are calling about: one of them is 10 years old and the other one is 5 years old. They said the police are looking to serve me papers, and they needed to draft my account for the money the same day. I am not sure that I owe these companies. They are so old. Why did they wait so long to contact me about them?~SD, North Carolina
A: There has been a tremendous surge in attempts to collect on very old debts, thanks to the fact that banks now sell their debt portofolios to debt collectors who then re-sell them for pennies on the dollar to other debt collectors. Debts that are so old they can't even be held against you on a credit report are sometimes called "zombie debts" and they are a headache, because as you point out, often consumers no longer have the proof of payment or other records to verify the debt is real. Sometimes sloppy debt collectors even go after the wrong people, just because they have the same name. Your first step should be to demand proof of the debts. That is your right under Federal law. I can also reassure you that no police officers are coming for you. Debt is a civil not criminal matter in this country and it is actually illegal for the collector to make threats like that. Read on for how to make the calls stop.
Q: I have a collection agency in California calling my past daughter -in-law and another daughter-in-laws parents in another town harassing them and threatening to send the police out with papers to be served on them. This is my debt, but the collectors have not contacted me. What can I do? ~DB, North Carolina
A: Depending what the collectors have told your relatives and former relatives, they may be breaking the law. Debt collectors are not allowed to tell other people about your debts. The first thing you can do, to be a good in-law, is to get the name of the collection company that is calling and contact them yourself to say they should be dealing with you not your remote relatives. THEN, if you are not prepared to pay the debt right now, ask the collection company for its name and address. (If you're suave about this, they will think you are asking in order to send money and they will tell you.) At that point ALL YOU HAVE TO DO is write them a short letter saying not to contact you or any of your relatives anymore. Tell them you know this is your right under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Send the letter certified, so you have proof they got it. The debt won't go away but the abusive calls will.