For the past three and a half years (as long as we've had this phone number -- a land line), we've been getting calls from debt collectors for the person who apparently used to have our number.

The collectors don't believe that she doesn't live here, and the only legal way to get them to stop is sending a letter. But as far as I can tell, that written request only applies to the current collector.

I've sent FDCPA drop dead letters, and the calls stop... for a while. Then (I'm guessing) the debt gets sold to the next agency, and the calls start again.

Is there any way to permanently stop the nonsense? Or do I have to simply wait until her debt expires?

Edit: In response to stoj's answer, here's the drop-dead letter:

Dear XXX,

I am notifying you in writing that your agency has contacted me regarding a debt for ZZZ. No one by that name lives at my address or phone number.

Therefore, I am requesting that you cease all communication to my phone number regarding this person's debt. If you persist in believing that ZZZ is somehow connected with my address and/or phone number, please provide proof of your claim.

You should direct all future correspondence in writing as outlined in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and cease all communication with me by telephone.

Lastly, I would like to receive confirmation in writing that you have received this letter and will no longer be contacting me about this other person's debt, or I will be forced to seek further legal action.

I look forward to your acknowledgement that you have received this notice by YYYY-MM-DD.

I can't remember where I originally got the template, but here's a version of this letter.

  • 1
    Is changing your phone number an option?
    – JohnFx
    Commented Mar 23, 2011 at 18:14
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    I'd vote this up ten times if I could.
    – mbhunter
    Commented Mar 23, 2011 at 19:03
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    This is a great question. I had a variation of your problem. I have a common name and so I get calls frequently from debt collectors for other people with my name. It usually stops at one call but I had one pesky collector that didn't stop at one.
    – Muro
    Commented Mar 23, 2011 at 19:07
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    Send the letter certified mail return receipt requested so you can prove delivery Commented Mar 24, 2011 at 14:59
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    Is this a home phone or cell phone? Different legal rights depending on the answer.
    – Alex B
    Commented Mar 24, 2011 at 15:47

5 Answers 5


Sue the debt collectors in small claims court. There are several example stories around the internet, but this is a well written one from the consumerist.

If your phone is a cell phone: "it is against the law for a company to leave a pre-recorded message on your cell phone."

In fact, the call frequency increased once they realized they had reached a live person. I called each of these companies multiple times, and though I was given assurances each time that my number would be taken off of their lists, the calls continued, morning, noon and night. At my wits end, I decided the only way to have the harassing calls stop was to file suits against the collection companies. It's very important to understand that it is against the law for a company to leave a pre-recorded message on your cell phone. Armed with this knowledge, I filed suit against several of the collection companies. I filed in small claims court so I did not need to hire an attorney, and the process was as simple as completing a paragraph on a complaint form. For evidence, I had over a hundred Google Voicemail transcripts showing the times the companies called and the text of the pre-recorded messages.

Mysteriously, the calls all stopped immediately on the same date the collection companies received the certified letters stating they were being sued. Then a new flurry of calls began pouring in. This time it was their attorneys.

The attorneys representing these out of state collection companies were all desperate to settle out of court. hey did not want to incur the expense of traveling for court or hiring a local law firm who wasn't on retainer. They also understood they had no justifiable defense for the calls. To make a long story short, so far I have successfully sued 3 of these collection companies and settled for more than $5,000 out of court. All it cost me was $35 and 20 minutes per suit.

Making these companies pay is the only incentive for them to stop their illegal and harassing practices. If more consumers knew their rights and actually took a few minutes to stand up for them, it would become less profitable for these companies to conduct business the way they do now.


And whether you have a cell phone or land line, It is illegal for the debt collectors to tell you they are calling to collect a debt for someone else under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (wikipedia, ftc docs).

What Remedies Are Available If The Debt Collector Violates The Law Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, you have the right to sue a debt collector in state or federal court within one year from the date of the violation. If you win, you may recover damages in the amount of any losses you suffered as a result of the violation, plus an additional amount of up to $1,000.00. You may also be able to recover court costs and attorney fees.

If the same debt collector has engaged in unlawful conduct with a number of consumers, it may be possible to find a lawyer who will file a class action lawsuit.


With regard to whether you can sue under FDCPA if you are not the debtor, one FDCPA lawyer (take with grain of salt) says yes:

Did you know that it doesn't matter if you owe the account the debt collector is calling you about or not? If a debt collector violates the FDCPA (the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 USC 1692 et. seq.) that debt collector could be liable to pay you statutory damages, actual damages, attorney's fees, and court costs.


  • 3
    This is the best answer yet. Thanks for the references. It's a land line FWIW. I have been wondering about your last citation. If they disclose that they're collecting debt for someone else (FDCPA §804 (2)), do I have a claim against them, or is that claim reserved just the "Consumer"?
    – bstpierre
    Commented Mar 24, 2011 at 18:12
  • @bstpierre I think so. I found a source (lawyer looking to sue) who says yes. I imagine chances are good if you have evidence of them violating FDCPA and they are out of state, they'll settle.
    – Alex B
    Commented Mar 24, 2011 at 19:02
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    If you couldn't sue unless you were the debtor, that would mean that someone suing over a non-existent debt couldn't possibly violate the law no matter they did. Of course it doesn't matter whether you actually owe money or not. Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 22:03
  • @DavidSchwartz Yes.Of course "makes sense" and "is the law" are two very different things. But it's hard to imagine that the law would say that as long as you don't really owe someone any money, they are free to harass you in any way they want as much as you want and you have no legal recourse. That people who really do owe money and refuse to pay have legal rights, but people who are being harassed unjustifiably don't.
    – Jay
    Commented Sep 10, 2018 at 2:27

As a former debt collector myself, I can tell you that we did occasionally get someone claiming that they weren't who they really were. However, it was pretty obvious who was telling the truth after a while. Above all else, just be calm and polite. Technically, you can also say "do not call this number again" and they have to stop calling, but I wouldn't do this right off the bat. Its best if they are convinced that you aren't the guy they're looking for.

Calmness and politeness are traits that debtors usually lack, sometimes because they are just normal people overwhelmed with their situation, and sometimes because they are irrational loser (sorry, but its true). Either way, if you are consistently calm and unconcerned about their threats, they will either give up or realize you aren't the guy.

Eventually they will stop calling you (or at least I know I would have stopped calling you).

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    Won't they just sell the account to another agency if they fail to collect and start the whole process over? Can you ask them to make a note in the file or something that it is the wrong phone number with any hope that it would be passed along to any future collection agencies?
    – JohnFx
    Commented Aug 24, 2011 at 15:22
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    Speaking for myself, we rarely passed along any accounts to another Collections Agency. And notes from one agency would NOT get passed to another, unfortunately, as sometimes the agencies are in competition with each other. Your best bet would be to call the original company and have them change the phone number in their system so that if/when they move the account to a new Collections group, so that you don't get the calls when the new group starts trying to collect.
    – GHP
    Commented Aug 24, 2011 at 18:52
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    Yeah, I've had basically 100% success disposing of people trying to collect a debt from the prior owner of the number with the calm and polite approach. Once I had to do it twice. I've never had it come back after a while, either. Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 21:14

Suing is a legitimate option as well as screening your calls but here's another idea which has personally worked and relates to the collections I did for awhile. Talk with the collector. Outstanding debt gets sold many times and each time a new collector gets their hands on an account they do their due diligence which means calling every single number multiple times. Collectors a looking for consumers who actively evade collections calls for years.

My recommendation is to use logic and explain the situation. Give your first name and describe when you received the phone number and then ask a simple question. When in the last 3 1/2 years have you or any collector had a successful hit from this number. They'll respond never in 3 1/2 years. The collector notes the account for themselves and future collectors. Debt collectors are about about making money, not wasting time and they do review all notes pertaining to an account. Will it work? Maybe not but hopefully it will stop the calls with a short conversation. Good luck.


I have been in a similar position for quite a while now and the only thing that seems to help is screening phone calls. I have a long list of collector numbers set to not ring on my phone. They can still leave a voice mail but they never do.

As far as I know there aren't any laws that protect you from nuisance phone calls. FDCPA letters only apply to the debtor and the collector it is sent to it doesn't protect an unrelated third party from getting annoying phone calls. I have a feeling that sending FDCPA letters is just confirming that you probably are the debtor and prolong the collection calls.

  • See my edit. FDCPA applies to third parties as well, though mostly with the debtor in mind. See FDCPA § 804.
    – bstpierre
    Commented Mar 24, 2011 at 12:27

Step 1)I answer the phone saying it is illegal to call my cell phone and I want all further communications in writing. Put this number on the do not call list and reverse search the number they dialed.

Step 2) I say that whoever changed their number and how long I have owned the number and I call forward when they don't stop. I forward calls through google voice and mark them as spam. They get a sorry number was disconnected recording.

Step 3) REALLY HARSH. I say the person passed away only if they aren't deterred enough by the previous efforts or they get cross into extreme harassment.

Usually Step 1 is enough to stop the calls no matter who they ask for.

  • 3
    Step 3 doesn't work all that well. I don't get phone calls since I dropped the land line, but I still get dunning letters addressed to the woman I bought my house from, 15+ years ago. She's been dead for about 10 of those years. (And I used to get life insurance offers addressed to her husband, who died maybe a decade before that.)
    – jamesqf
    Commented Apr 27, 2015 at 4:24

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