Kevin Pumphrey was receiving collection calls for several years about student loans that he did not owe, in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). However, after he learned that he could sue the collection agency for harassment, the agency settled the case and left him alone.

In another case, Michael L. Hughes started getting the harassing calls from a debt collector claiming that he owed $12,000. After checking his credit report, he realized the debt collectors had the wrong person. His credit report showed a $12,000 debt owed by a Michael “B” Hughes.

This practice known as “debt tagging” prompted a Federal Trade Commission investigation (FTC) of Credit Bureau Collection Services, or CBCS. The company agreed to pay more than $1 million to settle charges that it violated federal law by inaccurately reporting credit information and by pressing consumers to pay debts they did not owe.

Sometimes, as in the case of Hughes, they go after consumers with similar names as those who owe money. Debt collectors also call wrong phone numbers, hoping to pry information out of whoever answers. Some manage to get enough identifying information to make people seem liable for debts they do not owe.

According to the FTC, it receives more complaints about the debt-collection industry than about any other industry.

J. Reilly Dolan, assistant director of the FTC’s Division of Financial Practices in Washington, said his team made a point of bringing the CBCS case. “It’s not an isolated incident,” Dolan said. “We want a case out there to make sure everyone understands it’s not acceptable.” He said the FTC expects to continue challenging such practices.

Valerie Hayes, general counsel for Association of Credit and Collections (ACA), said debt collectors can err when the debtor gets a different phone number from the one first used. Or someone who moves into the home of a debtor might receive that person’s bills or other communications.

Those random connections can pay off for debt collectors. Some unscrupulous collectors will pursue a person who might cave under pressure. Mark Fullbright, fraud specialist at Identity Theft 911, said CBCS called one of his clients, Molly Harrington, and managed to get her to divulge her Social Security number. Then Harrington, got a bill for $4,197 from an electric company for power at a house in Putnam, Connecticut. But she was from Chepachet, Rhode Island and had never lived in Connecticut, nor did she own property in Connecticut.

Jay Foley, Executive Director at the Identity Theft Resource Center, said “a person who is being harassed by a debt collector should write a certified letter to the agency explaining that they are contacting the wrong person. If the collector does not stop, document everything and consult a consumer protection attorney.”

If you are being harassed by a debt collector in violation of the FDCPA, you may be entitled to compensation. Please call California Consumer Protection Attorney, Todd M. Friedman at (877) 449-8898 for a free consultation.