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Everyone gets an occasional unwanted phone call, but when those calls become excessive or even threatening, you can’t just press “ignore.” I should know. I’ve received more than 50 unwanted phone calls in two months.
One day I got a call on my cell phone. Not knowing the number, I didn’t answer it. Then I got three more calls in less than a minute. Then my business line rang. This time they left a voicemail. A man with a heavy accent said he was a lawyer calling about a payday loan I hadn’t paid. Since I didn’t have a payday loan, I ignored the call. That only made things worse.
For the next week, six different numbers from six different area codes called me at least once every two hours, from about 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week. After calling my cell phone three or four times, they would start to call my business line. Occasionally they left voicemails like this one:
This message is for Angela Colley. Angela, the very second you receive this message either you or your retained attorney must return this call. The issue at hand is extremely time sensitive. Angela, if you don’t return the call or I do not hear from your attorney, the only thing I can do is wish you good luck as this situation unfolds on you.
Then one day I got a call from a former boss. This “law firm” had called my old workplace and said that I had several unpaid payday loans and would be arrested at my place of business. They had gone too far. I was done just ignoring them. Here is how I took action.
1. Figure out what they want
The next time a strange number called, I answered the phone with a pen and paper in hand. The voice on the other end told me that he worked for a law firm in California. I had an unpaid payday loan and would be arrested at my workplace tomorrow. But I could avoid that by sending a money order in the amount of $1,235 to him directly.
When I asked how I would be arrested in California when I lived and worked in Louisiana and didn’t have a payday loan, the man started shouting, saying that I would be embarrassed in front of my friends and family. I could lose my job for being arrested. And I would ruin my financial future. Then he hung up.
But I had been writing everything down. I had the phone number, the name of the law firm, and the address.
2. Verify the call
My next step was to do an Internet search of the phone number. I found out that several people were getting the same threats. Then I researched the law firm. It does exist, but it is based in another state and focuses on personal injury law. This proved that whatever was happening was a scam.
The takeaway: Don’t give out personal information or send money to a company you don’t know. Instead, verify the phone number and company are legitimate. Several websites collect personal stories about harassing phone calls. Check them out and see if the number is on the list:
3. Tell them to stop calling
The next time I got a call, I asked the voice on the other end to stop contacting me. When he ignored me, I asked to speak to a supervisor. In my case, he screamed, “I am not going to argue with you” and hung up the phone, but this is still a step you need to take.
When you ask not to be contacted, get the name of the person you are speaking to and write down the time and date of the call. This information might come in handy if you have to seek outside help to stop the calls.
4. Talk to your supervisor
I’m lucky because, while these numbers were calling my business line, I’m self-employed. I don’t have to worry about getting in trouble with my boss because the phone is ringing off the hook, but your situation might be different. To head off any potential problems, tell your supervisor about the problem up front. Explain that you’re trying to get a handle on it and have asked to not be contacted.
5. Send a cease and desist letter
In my case, after I asked the voice on the other end to stop contacting me, the calls stopped for three days. I mistakenly thought this meant the nightmare was over. What I should have done was immediately write a letter to the debt collectors asking them not to contact me further.
Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act you have the right not to be called by debt collectors, regardless of whether you owe the debt. If you write a cease and desist letter to a debt collector, he is legally obligated to stop contacting you. Below is a sample letter you can use:
City, State Zip
Debt Collector’s Name
City, State Zip
Re: Account Number
Dear Debt Collector:
Pursuant to my rights under federal debt collection laws, I am requesting that you cease and desist communication with me, as well as my family and friends, in relation to this and all other alleged debts you claim I owe.
You are hereby notified that if you do not comply with this request, I will immediately file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and the [your state here] Attorney General’s office. Civil and criminal claims will be pursued.
6. Block the number
After three days, the calls started again with a vengeance. The number would call six to 10 times times a day, despite everything I had tried. Fed up, I contacted my wireless provider. I told them that I was being harassed, and gave them a list of every number the faux law firm had used. My wireless provider blocked the numbers from calling me immediately and the calls stopped.
Both wireless and land-line providers have the ability to block incoming calls from specific phone numbers. Contact your provider and ask to have the number blocked.
7. Sue the company
I chose not to pursue this option, but you have the right to sue the company harassing you and you may even get free legal assistance. In Abused by a Debt Collector? Get a Free Lawyer we spoke with attorney Craig Kimmel. According to Kimmel, “If a debt collector violates the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, they’re liable for damages that could include money and payment of legal fees.” To find out if you qualify for free legal help, set up a consultation with a lawyer. The lawyer will hear your story free and then decide where to go from there.
8. Report the caller
After I blocked the numbers, the calls stopped and I left it at that, but I later found out I could have reported the scam to the authorities and listed the information online. If you’re still being harassed after sending a cease and desist letter, or you just want to make sure this doesn’t happen to someone else, there are two agencies who handle fraud.
- The Federal Trade Commission investigates fraudulent calls. Call 1-877-FTC-HELP to file a claim.
- Your state’s attorney general also investigates fraud claims. If necessary, the attorney general may take legal action against the company or person scamming you. Visit your state’s attorney general website for contact information.
Earlier I mentioned three websites that I used to research the phone number. These websites collect user-submitted information about debt collectors and scammers. Submit your own story to the sites and it may help someone else from being victimized down the line.