Editorial Policy

Mistaken Identity Brings Flood of Collection Calls

Erica Sandberg

May 3, 2013

QHi Erica,

For the past year I've been getting calls from people looking for Samuel Jackson. I am Samantha Jackson, and there is no Samuel that lives here. I know they are debt collectors, and I tell them that it's just me and I don't know him. I usually hang up the phone, but sometimes they ask things like where he's working now, or if he's moved to another state or what his phone number is. It's like they don't hear me. I often get voice mail messages at home, too, and this is what is worrying me. They are bad! They're saying that he will be sued. Now I want to warn him. Any advice? — Samantha

ADear Samantha,

It's pretty clear that at least one collection agent is on the hunt for Mr. Jackson, and while I'm glad that you're not the intended target, dealing with all those calls and messages is still a pain.Ask Erica

But find Samuel yourself to warn him that he's in trouble? I wouldn't. As much as I believe in the moral merit of looking out for each other, getting involved in this instance is going too far. He probably knows that he hasn't paid the bill that went bad, so you won't be telling him anything new. Also, if the professional collector with a cash reward at stake can't locate him, you have little chance of doing any better.

Your names, of course, are almost certainly the reason for the mix-up. Collection agencies have many ways of finding people, and they usually get it right. Their first course of action is to use the information provided by the original creditor. For example, if the account was with a credit card company, they surely would have his phone number and mailing address. If that information is no longer valid, though, the collector would have to conduct deeper investigative work. Sometimes it's nothing more complicated than opening a phone book (available online these days) and searching for the name and city connected with the person they're looking for. So if both of you go only by the first letter of your first name, and you both live in the same town, they're guessing that you're either him or a relative. And if you are related, chances are you know of his whereabouts — hence the inquisition.

But you aren't him and you're not connected, so now what?

For suggestions on how to stop the calls, I spoke with Michelle Dunn, author of “The Ultimate Credit and Collections Handbook.” Her advice is to stay silent. You've already told the collectors that they've got the wrong number, so in the future just hang up, Dunn says.

“The more you speak with them, the more they will call and the more they will ask you questions,” she says.

If the collector continues to call, tell him or her to cease contacting or you will take further action. Dunn says to write a letter to the agency the collector works for (legally, a collector must give you that information) and explain that Samuel Jackson is in no way connected to your phone number and you have no idea who he is. Send the letter by certified mail and pay for a return receipt to verify that the letter was received. In the letter, very clearly write that you want them to “cease and desist” all action pertaining to you and that you may only be contacted in writing going forward. Dunn also suggests you send a copy of the letter to the following organizations:

  • Council of Better Business Bureaus: 3033 Wilson Blvd., Suite 600, Arlington, VA 22201. You can file a complaint on the website, too.
  • Federal Trade Commission: 600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20580
  • Your state's attorney general's office. You can find yours here.

That should be enough to end future conversations — which makes sense, because all collectors want is to find Samuel and “encourage” a payment. If they know for sure that you are not Sam and that you cannot help them ferret him out, they'll stop wasting their (and your) time.

The FTC has a handy list of what collectors can and cannot do on its website. You may want to give it a quick read so that you are familiar with what your rights are.

Got a question for Erica? Send her an email.