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A debtor with my same first and last name and middle initial owes a student loan debt for a college in another state I never attended. The debt collectors have my previous address listed on the notice, and have contacted my work to attempt to garnish my wages. The ss number listed on the notice is not mine. I never knew anything about this until my employer informed me. What measures can I take against this collection agency?

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    They're way, way over the line. I suspect it's going to take a lawsuit, but that might be quite profitable for you. – Loren Pechtel Apr 11 '16 at 22:14
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    The ss number listed on the notice is not mine. How are they even able to proceed, then? – Michael Apr 12 '16 at 5:43
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    @Michael because all debt collectors (save those two guys at the back of the room that are about to be fired for inefficiency) are trolls at heart. – Mindwin Apr 12 '16 at 12:11
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    I am not a lawyer, but the fact that they leaked personal information, like the ss number, sounds like grounds for a(nother) lawsuit by the actual debt holder. – Amani Kilumanga Apr 13 '16 at 2:03

11 Answers 11

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Request verification in writing of the debt. They are required to provide this by law. Keep this for your records.

Send them a notice by certified mail stating that this is not your debt and not to contact you again. Indicate that you will take legal action if they continue to try and collect. Keep a log of if/when they continue to call or harass you.

Contact counsel about your rights under the fair debt collection laws, but if they keep harassing you after being provided proof of your identity, they are liable. You could win a judgement in court if you have proof of bad behavior.

If your identity is stolen, you are not legally responsible for the charges. However it is a mess to clean up, so pull your credit reports and review your accounts to be sure.

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    They already broke the FDCPA when they contacted his employer. – Loren Pechtel Apr 13 '16 at 0:20
  • INAL, but OP might be able to sue already for disclosure of someone ELSE'S DEBT, which is also illegal especially if the debt collector is told the debt is not his/hers. – Anoplexian Apr 13 '16 at 16:55
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    @LorenPechtel Good point! However, if OP first heard of the issue from their employer (when the creditor contacted them) there may be a judgement already authorizing garnishment, but the creditor made a clerical error. A letter should correct that error, and if not then OP should take further action. – jkuz Apr 13 '16 at 20:13
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    @jkuz Good point, if they have a court ordered judgment they're not breaking the law in contacting the employer. They're just not being careful in who they go after. – Loren Pechtel Apr 14 '16 at 5:33
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This seems very suspicious, as if it were fraud, and not a legitimate collector.

Garnishing wages takes a court order. A court would require a bit more proof than a name. Names can easily be common, I know sets of first cousins named after the common grandparent, 4 pairs in my extended family, along with 2 triples. The court would certainly look for a social security number match. Your own credit history will show no activity in that state.

A legitimate debt collector would handle this very differently.

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    Wage garnishment does take a court order, but I wouldn't put it past a debt collector to try to do it with a letter. Even if it doesn't work (hopefully the employer ignored the letter), the debt collector has succeeded in intimidating the target. – Ben Miller Apr 12 '16 at 0:10
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    After finding several forums of people complaining of the same scenario, this type of thing apparently happens quite frequently with debt collectors. They have limited info to go on and find the best possible match and go for it. Some of them stick with harassing phone calls and letters to the individual, but it seems that many go to the employers as well. – BobbyScon Apr 12 '16 at 0:34
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    So what can they (Jamie) do? – Xen2050 Apr 12 '16 at 15:51
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    "A court would require a bit more proof than a name." And much more proof than a name and a non-matching SSN! – David Richerby Apr 12 '16 at 21:42
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    Garnishment doesn't require a court order for student loans with the Department of Education. – Anoplexian Apr 13 '16 at 16:50
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Assuming you're in the US, you can file complaints against financial institutions (including debt collectors) through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The link to debt collector complaints is: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/Complaint/#debt-collection

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Step one: Contact the collection agency. Tell them that they have the wrong person, and the same name is just a coincidence. I would NOT give them my correct social security number, birth date, or other identifying information. This could be a total scam for the purpose of getting you to give them such personal identifying information so they can perform an identity theft. Even if it is a legitimate debt collection agency, if they are overzealous and/or incompetent, they may enter your identifying information into their records. "Oh, you say your social security number isn't 123-45-6789, but 234-56-7890. Thank you, let me update our records. Now, sir, I see that the social security number in our records matches your social security number ..."

Step two: If they don't back off, contact a lawyer.

Collection agencies work by -- call it "intimidation" or "moral persuasion", depending on your viewpoint. Years after my wife left me, she went bankrupt. A collection agency called me demanding payment of her debts before the bankruptcy went through. I noticed two things about this: One, We were divorced and I had no responsibility for her debts. Somehow they tracked down my new address and phone number, a place where she had never even lived. Why should I pay her debts? I had no legal obligation, nor did I see any moral obligation. Two, Their pitch was that she/I should pay off this debt before the bankruptcy was final. Why would anyone do that? The whole point of declaring bankruptcy is so you don't have to pay these debts. They were hoping to intimidate her into paying even though she wouldn't be legally obligated to pay.

If you don't owe the money, of course there's no reason why you should pay it. If they continue to pursue you for somebody else's debt, in the U.S. you can sue them for harassment. There are all sorts of legal limits on what collection agencies are allowed to do.

Actually even if they do back off, it might be worth contacting a lawyer. I suspect that asking your employer to garnish your wages without a court order, without even proof that you are responsible for this debt, is a tort that you could sue them for.

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    That last paragraph is key. Likely, they are breaking the law. – JoeTaxpayer Apr 12 '16 at 20:07
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From a page on consumerfinance.gov

A debt collector generally may not contact your employer or other third-parties about the debt. Debt collectors may ask your employer to verify your employment, or ask for your address or telephone number.

Note - they aren't even allowed to tell the employer that they are trying to collect a debt.

So - even if you were the guilty party, this isn't allowed. They've already broken very clear laws and thus are probably not trustworthy, so (echoing what others have said) don't give them your own personal information. If they've done one day's research on the law governing their industry they know this is illegal. If they've actually gotten any money from your employer, it's theft. If they haven't then it's just attempted theft. Contact the police regardless.

Also - contact a lawyer. You may well have the right to sue them. They've broken Federal laws in a way that causes you injury. Odds are they've broken state laws as well.


One last point - do you even have proof that these are debt collectors collecting a real debt, rather than people trying to get you to give them your SSN? Perhaps their business plan is to look at company webpages and send bogus requests to the employers for some random employee and then see what information they get back (I'm not him, here's my personal information). Be very careful to not give any personally identifiable information (date of birth, address, SSN, mother's maiden name, etc). Anything they ask about you don't provide.

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    He doesn't mention that they disclosed the debt to his employer, just they made an attempt to garnish his wages. Legal, but the disclosing of the fact that it's a student loan is a bigger issue, as they didn't verify his information. – Anoplexian Apr 13 '16 at 16:53
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Use with moderation. Powerful stuff. Your caller could be an offshore scammer too. Summarizing from http://www.creditinfocenter.com/rebuild/debt-validation.shtml:

You can dispute the debt, and demand that the collector give you the name and address of the original creditor and show that it isn't past the statute of limitations. If they can't "validate" the debt by providing that info, in writing, they must drop it until they can do so. You can sue (though generally not for very much) if they don't. You may have to make this request in writing, so it has a paper trail.

A valid verification respond must include:

  • Proof that the collection company owns the debt/or has been assigned the debt.
  • Copies of statements from the original creditor.
  • Copy of the original signed loan agreement or credit card application.
  • Copy of a cancelled check from you to the original creditor.

If they don't respond within 30 days, they are in violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FDCPA section 809b), and you can send registered mail threatening them with a lawsuit if they don't immediately drop it and remove it from your credit report. They should respond to that within two weeks, and if they don't have darned good evidence will probably cave.

If they can prove you do owe the money ... Well, you can hope they aren't licensed to collect in your state; if they aren't you can try to challenge them on that basis. Unlikely to work.

If they agree, remember to send a copy of the letter to the credit reporting agencies to make sure it's taken off your record.

If this isn't enough to resolve it, you'll probably need to bring suit. That's another long list of steps; I'm going to refer you to the linked site rather than summarize them here since at that point you should get a lawyer involved to make sure it's done promptly.

  • @keshlam - +1 - you are too kind. Nice editing, and fine example of summarizing. – JoeTaxpayer Apr 17 '16 at 17:47
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You are talking to the wrong people. Debt collectors are not intimidated by anything you say.

  1. Call and tell them that, before you pay the debt, they need to get the paperwork from the company to verify that you actually owe them the money and the amount. You need copies of the original paperwork.

  2. This alone may resolve the issue. If not, then call the client company and explain that THEIR debt collection agency is talking to the wrong person. Explain why you are not that person.

  3. It may be necessary to tell them that your lawyer advised you that they will be personally held responsible for any damages that you may incur from this debt collector's actions. The client is the one who needs to be intimidated.

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    Note - not sure about this case, but in many cases, there isn't a "client". The organization that is owed money sells the right to collect the money to a debt collector for a small amount. The debt collector then gets whatever he collects. – Joel Apr 13 '16 at 21:49
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    @Joel It's not uncommon for a collection agency to be used to collect on behalf of a client organization. Not all companies sell their debts to collection agencies. – Cypher Apr 14 '16 at 17:05
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    I once worked for an outsourcing company that mostly did collections (but also a few other phone-based services like sales and customer verification). We had 3 types of collections work: First-party (we identified ourselves as if employed by the client, and logged into the client's systems for payment processing, account restoration, etc.; client paid hourly), Third-party (we identified ourselves as employees of the actual company, processed payments through our system, and collected funds were turned over to client afterwards, less a fee), and Debt Purchase (our company now owns the debt). – Dan Henderson Apr 14 '16 at 20:41
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Did you receive a summons, or other notice of proceedings, from the court which granted the judgement? If you were not served with the proceedings, contact the court. It is unlawful to enforce a judgement against someone who was not a party to the original lawsuit.

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Don't waste your time threatening legal action or screwing around with certified mail. If they're contacting your employer to garnish your wages they probably already have a summary judgment against you for failing to appear at a court date you didn't know about.

Your employer might have had your back but these guys will continue to try to locate your assets and attempt garnishment until someone does accept their claim and hands over your bank account.

Contact a bankruptcy attorney immediately (they are most experienced with dealing with debt collectors and related issues). Consultations are generally free.

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    consultations are generally free - this is an important point. All the answers provided here are based on some assumptions about what exactly was said in the letter. An attorney who knows the law and sees that letter will know exactly the best response that will draw a line under this and get rid of them. The ultimate solution may cost a bit but if they really have attempted to garnish wages improperly, they've probably opened themselves up to a lawsuit which they'd be overjoyed to settle if OP just asks them to cover legal fees. – Joel Apr 17 '16 at 21:42
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It's probably a scam or maybe some amateur agency trying to put pressure on their target. Normal garnishment goes through the court system.

Just ignore it. Tell your employer they obviously have the wrong person since the SS is wrong.

Suing clowns like this is not worth it.


Just to clarify this some more for you:

Trying to collect on a random person with the same name is called "tagging" in the collection industry. Before 2010 it was common because it was actually easier to legally bully the wrong person (who had money) than the right person who does not have money. That was then, this is now. Various federal and state laws have been passed since that time to prevent identity theft and these laws create big liabilities for debt collectors that try to bully the wrong person. Therefore, it rarely happens anymore, though of course sometimes agencies will still call you if they think they have a soft target. That's what the call to your employer is, just a test.

A pro collector (like a law firm) would never call an employer, because they could get sued for doing that, but some amateur working out of his basement might. That's what you are dealing with: some joker in a basement. Such people never sue, they just buy old debt for pennies on the dollar and try random harassing phone calls. Ignore it and he will move on to the next "John Smith" on his list.

A lot of lawyers will advise you to "talk" to the collector, correcting their misinformation, blah blah. Lawyers like talking, because the more talk there is, the more money they make. In the real legal world: never talk to your enemy or give them information. The way real courts and judges work is that they don't like plaintiffs who sue the wrong person. In fact, they do not like it VERY MUCH. Very bad things happen in courtrooms to people who sue the wrong person. Judges have VERY short patience in general and they DO NOT LIKE IT when somebody wastes their time by suing the wrong person.

Basically what this means is: ignore the guy and he will go away.

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    Worst advice possible in this scenario. The debt collector can still sue you for the debt, even if it's invalid! The worst part is given how sloppy they are, you might not even get notice you're being sued, which will lead to a summary judgment in court since you'll fail to appear, and you'll wake up one day to find your bank account drained. – Ivan Apr 16 '16 at 14:57
  • @Ivan Maybe in Russia Ivan, but where I live (Massachusetts) that will not happen. There is a federal law called the "Fair Debt Collection Practices Act", so if some agency pulls some nonsense like that they are risking a FEDERAL lawsuit that could easily cost them anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 to defend and they will LOSE if they targeted the wrong person. It's very rare for a real debt collection agency to act against a person without being sure its the right person these days. In the OP's case the collector is probably not even a law firm. Its probably just some joker with a phone. – Five Bagger Apr 16 '16 at 15:09
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    I am deeply involved with auditing American debt collection agencies' information sourcing as part of my day job. This does not sound like typical harassment where they contact your employer to locate you because you've been dodging their calls-- if they are contacting the employer with the intent of garnishment then they either have a court order in hand or they are a particularly brazen criminal. Either way OP's next step needs to be contacting a lawyer or the police, or both. Ignoring a prowler at your door and hoping he goes away is never the right thing to do. – Ivan Apr 16 '16 at 15:30
  • @Ivan You are completely misconstruing the situation. First of all, real garnishment is through a court order and involves lawyers. The OP would have gotten certified letters on letterhead long before if this was legitimate. He also would have gotten letters from the court and possibly the IRS or state government. When something like this happens out of the blue, it is just a clown in a basement in another state dialing phone numbers. The debt collector is probably hiding his identity too, because he knows he could get sued for what he is doing. – Five Bagger Apr 16 '16 at 15:43
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    Ugh, NO. Garnishment can happen without the victim even knowing it until their bank account is empty! Papers get filed by opposing counsel, you fail to get the notice, the court awards a summary judgment since you don't show up to oppose, and then the collector starts gunning for your assets. Good luck retaining a lawyer after all your savings have been seized. And if this is a legit error, there are safe harbor clauses in the FDCPA that let collectors off the hook for first/minor offenses. You place way too much faith in the justice system working for the little guy. I see its failures daily. – Ivan Apr 16 '16 at 16:00
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Debt collectors are just doing their job as many people want to evade payment by not responding and skipping their debts, and they talk tough to force people found to make their obligated payments based on what they can afford and that’s all.

I’m in the UK, but I assume the process is similar. Before I begin, I worked in debt collection and I presume that the debt collection agency have requested details for a source like a college and you have been returned as a possible match as you name is identical to their debtor but with differing date of birth etc.
College/University students are very nomadic in nature and addresses aren’t very helpful when they are not current, but details of a current address/employer to a very similar name would be a possible lead to debtor and the debt collector is simply acting on flawed information which is fairly rare, and cases such as these are resolved when you can simply confirm your date of birth and other details so that they can eliminate you from their chasing activities.

Whilst you may feel uncomfortable about giving your details, you are not the debtor and will have to confirm this, the debt collector is only interested in collection of valid debts values, and the current letter is most likely a standard letter to get you to act assuming that you are the debtor.

If you try to ignore this or only partly answer their contact by telling them not to contact your employer etc, they will assume that you are the debtor and step up pursuit by contacting at work by phone, in person, or by other means, and you employer will see you in a bad light…

I would advise you to write to them a one-time only letter confirming details of your home address and insist on correspondence in writing only to that home address, in addition you should confirm your full name including full middle names, date of birth, that you have never attended the college in question, agreed to any such debt in writing, and that you are not the correct data subject as the ss number also differs. The letter should also go on to state a range of costs which require payment before you act further, ie subsequent letter $xx.xx amount attending court $xx.xx per hour(not cheap) and that if they harass you or otherwise affect your standing with your credit reference, or employer or anyone else that you ‘Will’ take further action and ‘May’ take them to your ‘Local’ court and pursue the costs list above and losses as a result of their actions including pain and suffering.

Speak tough and mean business and act decisively and your message will win through, share your details with them once and above all copy your employer in so that they know this is a case of mistaken identity. You can add a large heading at the top of the letter of ‘Mistaken Identity’ to prove your point.

  • Comments have been moved to chat feel free to continue the discussion there. Any and all discussion belongs in chat. If you have a substantial answer, post as such. – JoeTaxpayer Apr 13 '16 at 13:02
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    Please use the above link to make further comments, so the chat continues in one area and we can all comment. Thank you in advance. I have moved the above 4 comments to assist. – Andrew Day Apr 15 '16 at 22:32
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    Relevant to this answer: youtube.com/watch?v=CZddMfieLZA – Joel Jun 13 '16 at 13:04
  • Terrible practices, get video :) – Andrew Day Jun 15 '16 at 0:05
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    Normally I would suggest this, but as USA practice prohibits calling the employer, we are already dealing with sleaze here. I've had my name mistaken for a bad debtor. They called me (not my employer), they were polite, and they quickly agreed that my birthdate and marital status were a non-match. This debt collector is using invalid methods and needs to be stopped immediately. – Andrew Lazarus Mar 21 '18 at 1:44

protected by Chris W. Rea Mar 29 '17 at 23:51

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