In 2001, a debt collector began calling me daily. The debt they were attempting to collect on was from someone with a completely different name than mine. It didn’t seem to matter. It took me three years of arguing to finally get enough information from them to be able to do something about it. It didn’t matter that none of the information they had related in any way to me. It seemed like they figured contacting someone was better than not being able to contact anyone about the case so they wouldn’t let up. If you’ve experienced something similar, you’re not alone.
Since July 2013, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has received nearly 9,000 complaints from older Americans about debt collectors. Older consumers experience a range of problems from collection attempts targeting the wrong consumer to collectors using coercive, offensive or misleading communications. In 2002, the number of older Americans with at least one account in collections has increased from less than 9 percent to 14.6 percent (30 million older adults) by 2012. Since 2013, consumers have complained about debt collection more than any other product or service according to the CFPB. The largest complaint was that collectors continued to attempt to collect on a debt not owed (48 percent of complaints) despite attempts on the consumer’s part to correct instances of mistaken identity. Some consumers found that, like me, the instances of communication about the mistaken debt actually increased. Nearly a third of all consumers could not even identify the debt that someone was attempting to collect on, increasing the chance that the debt collector is a fraud. A significant portion of older adults live primarily on government benefits. Yet, debt collectors sometimes threaten to garnish Social Security, Supplemental Income or Veterans’ benefits, even though those benefits are ordinarily not subject to garnishment.
It’s important to know your rights. Not all collection calls are scams but those that are can cause anxiety and other health issues. Even if the collection is legitimate, you should understand your rights. You can click here for steps you can take for debt collection problems and here to understand your rights under the law.