HOWTO Tell a debt-collector to go to hell

Consumerist reader Mark got a BS debt-collection letter for a debt associated with an address he'd lived at 20 years before. He wrote the errant harassers the most comprehensive and compelling go-to-hell letter it's been my pleasure to read. Be sure to click the link below and read the whole thing.

Now This Is How You Tell A Zombie Debt Collector To Buzz Off!


  1. This was probably therapeutic for the writer, but total overkill as far as the law goes. It would have been sufficient to scrawl “I DO NOT OWE THIS” in pencil on the collection letter and mail it back certified with return receipt. Federal law is very broad in shielding the public from debt collectors. Any written dispute triggers a formal process for the collector which is usually not worth it for them to pursue.

    1. (realising that your in the states and I’m in the UK)

      It would have been sufficient to scrawl “I DO NOT OWE THIS” in pencil on the collection letter and mail it back certified with return receipt.

      HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Oh god. Debt collectors are like evil terriers. They don’t stop, every failed attempt is charged to you and they will search you out and chase you until you’ve died or paid. And if you die then they’ll hound your next of kin.

      It took me 8 months and what seemed like ENDLESS phone calls to be removed from a debt collectors list. Why was I referred? I hadn’t paid my council tax, but as a student I didn’t have to pay and had notified my council of this. Council screwed up and decided I owed them so referred me to a collector (£800 tax + £400 collection fee), I again notified the council and they notified the collector. No debt. Fine.

      Well that was until the collector called back and demanded their £400 collection fees. For a debt they never collected, nor should have. They called every week. They constantly added to the sum they claimed I owed as I was “avoiding payment”. They refused to answer calls when I called from citizens advice. They came to my door and demanded money there and then, on the occasion that I never opened my door they left me a letter pinned to the outside of my door so my neighbours could see (as well as posting a card through the door).

      It all stopped when I told them I was in discussions with a lawyer and that my lawyer was sending them “papers concerning their harassment” and that I had been told not to communicate further with the collector. This of course was a total lie, I have no money for a lawyer but I must of sounded serious as they responded immediately after I said that by discovering that my debt “is an error in our system”. Fucking daylight robbing bastards. :-(

  2. Actually, if you don’t owe the money, by New York state law you can sue them for trying to collect on a false debt. Just FYI in case you want to take it up a notch.

  3. As jwb mentioned, complete overkill: these bastards will generally leave you alone if you a.) suck it up and answer the phone, or b.) send a letter (strongly worded or otherwise) indicating that you do not owe this debt.

    Unfortunately, they will then just offload the debt to some other set of bastards, who will then send you the same letter. For the past five years, I’ve gotten a call every six months or so for a debt belonging to someone that a.) lives nowhere near me, b.) doesn’t have the same middle name as me, and c.) doesn’t share my SSN (obviously). Fortunately, the rate of calls is steadily declining — at first, it was once a week.

    I was most angry about the first call, as they were insistent that the debt was indeed mine (going so far as to claim that the SSN was the same as mine). Once I cleared that first hurdle, it made it easier to tell subsequent callers to eff off.

  4. I once had a collector call me. For someone named “anne”, with my last name…spelled different. WTF…I don’t know ALL the people with my last name, especially not ones that are spelled different. He tried to get an address for her (yeah…same answer I DON’T KNOW HER)… and was insistent that I had to pay up then.
    Under no uncertain terms would I pay for a debt that wasn’t mine, wasn’t remotely close to being mine, and, as I found out later illegal practices (or ‘near’ illegal). They cannot compel information or even call someone ‘associated’ with the debtor (calls to home, answered by someone there being the obvious exception).

  5. This letter may have felt good, but it’s a complete waste of time.

    Disclaimer: not a collector or an apologist for those scum. Just someone who had their share of experiences with junk debt collectors.

    It’s not usually illegal to pursue time-lapsed, statute of limitations expired debt. There are a couple states who have passed specific laws about that, but the vast majority allow debts to be pursued forever. So the AGO will toss the letter in the trash.

    Instead of a cease and desist, he should have asked for validation. Then he could have forced them to find proof, or stop collections, which would effectively stop their communications. It also might have stopped this debt dead in its tracks. As it is, it may live on, in a number of ways:

    1) The debt collector could sell it to a new collector, who will then start harassing Mark.

    2) the debt collector could say “Oh, the hell with it”, and write it off. This causes a 1099 to be issued to the IRS, and now Mark has to argue with them about whether he owes the taxes on this debt that wasn’t his.

    3) the debt collector might say “BS, it’s your debt” and pursue it in court. Now Mark has to show up, or face a default judgment. Better be right about the dates (for SOL), the state SOL, and whether it’s his! Validation might have helped here.

    In closing, never deal with a debt collector on the phone, and always validate first.

  6. I once had a debt collector call me. It was for an old electricity account. Somehow, they had my first name, and my roommate’s last name, an my cell phone number. After they called about 10 times and I ignored them for a while, I figured to be a good person, since it was partially my debt, and I had lost contact with my room mate, I would just pay up, (only $100 or so). Turns out, that because it wasn’t my name that was attached to the debt, they couldn’t even accept my payment. They immediately removed my number from their records, and they haven’t called since. So they had called my 10 times, asked for me by name, used my real name when asking for me, but when it came time to actually pay it off in their system, my name didn’t match the actual name attached to the debt. I wonder if I can get some sort of compensation for them hassling me so much, and then it turns out it wasn’t even my debt.

  7. Wake up and smell reality. They do illegal things all the time. The statute of limitations has run out on those old debts, but they’re still calling, right? They’ll call your neighbors just to embarrass you, and where does the law say they can do that? They claim they need to “verify” your address. And so on.

  8. some debt collection agency has been bothering me for i don’t know, 6 years over a matter of $250. i had attended one of those pseudo-schools for things like pharmacy technician training. expensive. anyways, the teacher was an idiot who was often up to a half hour late… to a one hour class. it was, in more than one sense, a complete rip off. disgusted with the lack of professionalism as well as the cognitive deficiencies of my teacher, i stopped attending, and the following week I canceled the whole thing. the $250 is down from an initial ‘debt’ of ~$400. they wanted me to pay for a week of school that i did not attend after i was already in the hole some $1600 for books and the first month. i’ve simply ignored them, and eventually the statute of limitations will be up, and they will be gone. it hasn’t impacted my credit in any way since i maintain my accounts meticulously.

    at the time, i was dating this girl who became very upset with me over my decision to quit school, and shortly thereafter, my shitty job at a pizza joint after hearing about a possible opening in tech. she said it was irresponsible, and those two things fermented our eventual parting.

    i got the job, by the way – typing this from my comfy office with a comfy high back leather chair. irresponsible? maybe, but sometimes you’ve just got to say, enough is enough!

  9. Those of you who think this was overkill have not dealt with this situation.

    My husband and I moved about 5 years ago. We got a new phone number when we moved, and unfortunately, it had previously belonged to someone who had skipped out on his mortgage.

    Every day for two years, we got three to four phone calls a day for this guy. If we weren’t home, it went to our answering machine where a phone number was left to call back, but you could not get to a live person without having an account number with that mortgage company. If I talked to a live person, I would get asked whether or not we lived at the guy’s old address (who has ever moved into a house and had it come with the phone number, anyway?). They acted as though we were lying. I asked repeatedly to have the phone number removed from their database. They would tell me that it would be, and then the calls would sometimes stop for a couple of days, and then would resume again.

    Finally, I got onto the mortgage company’s website and emailed them a huge letter, quoting the Fair Debt Collection Act, etc. Then the calls stopped for a few months.

    After that, we got a couple of calls from a local branch of the mortgage company. I called them and was able to speak to a live person. I explained, with increasing anger, that if I got any more calls, I was absolutely going to sue them for harassing me.

    Know what? WE STILL GOT CALLS! Another couple of months passed and we came home one night to a message for the deadbeat guy. I called and spoke to a live person yet again, this time lauhging at how ridiculous this had all become, but they must have either heard about my letter and/or threat, or they recently pulled their heads out of their butts because the guy deleted our phone number from the account while I was on the phone with him and apologized profusely.

    So, sometimes overkill is necessary. I’ll say it again – if you’ve not dealt with this, there is no way you can know just how horrible it can be!!

    1. The same thing happened to me, although thankfully not quite on that scale. (Moved, got someone’s old phone number, and was harassed for years by collection agencies.) I finally got the address of the collection agency, told them I was writing them a letter and cc’ing the FTC. It was a very short letter, explaining that I was not the person they were looking for and saying that they must stop calling my phone number. I signed it, incomprehensibly, but was too paranoid to include my real name or address. It took me a little while to get around to it, but in the meantime (and ever since), I haven’t gotten a call.

  10. Sue in small claims court. Bring a copy of the FDCPA, and point out that they owe damages plus up to $1000 per time they tried to collect on a debt you didn’t owe. Sue for whatever the max is that small claims court allows. If they bother you repeatedly, and you document it properly, this could be pretty lucrative.

  11. This is all well and good but the debt collector will just sell the debt to some bottom feeder who will then start the campaign of harassment all over again. What he needs is a “letter of satisfaction” from the original creditor to then copy and mail to any debt collector who contacts him in the future. He should also keep a close eye on his credit report for bad marks and hard inquiries and dispute in writing any debts showing up there as well. A formal Cease & Desist letter mailed certified return receipt would be a good idea as well (hang onto that receipt!) And of course, when all else fails, nothing says “leave me alone” like a good ol’ fashioned lawsuit!

  12. I just want to say that the real “bottom feeders” here are those people who decide not to pay their bills. They are the cause of you getting calls from debt collectors not to mention higher prices for everything you purchase. Debt collectors have to rely on information given them by the creditor who allowed the purchase to be placed on payments. Collectors don’t like skip tracing either. There are some unethical debt collectors out there, but the majority follow the FDCPA or they would be out of business tomorrow. I am curious how many of you that mentioned the FDCPA have ever read it?

  13. Yes, Dave H, blame debtors for creditors’ harassment, sloppy record-keeping even on current debts, companies trying to score a buck off nth-generation sell-through debts and going after heirs (often right after the funeral), laughably slack enforcement of collection standards and obviously-settled debts somehow coming back to life. Yup, it’s the debtors’ fault.

    I call concern trolling.

  14. bjacques,
    I am going to assume you threw the “concern trolling” card since that was my first post and not because you call anyone with an opinion different from your’s a “concern troll”.

    As a business, I expect to get paid for services rendered and sometimes I have no choice but to turn accounts over to an agency. It hurts because I never realize the full amount due me. So when a debt collector calls and it’s a little painful and embarrassing, so be it. I pay my debts and expect to be paid when I kindly extend credit.

    Show me someone who has a problem with debt collectors, and nine out of ten times I will show you someone who is trying to avoid paying what they owe.

  15. I had one come after me after 10 years for something i had canceled under the regs for our local laws. Went to small claims, which meant each party had to produce all paperwork. discoverd they had alter the original document as well so got the police fraud office on to them. Court kick their claim out and warned them not to bug me or bring it up again, meanwhile fraud office crawled up every one of their orifices.

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