Dealing with someone else's collection calls

In a recent Ask Amy column, "Frustrated" wrote for advice on how to deal with collection calls she and her husband were receiving on behalf of her brother-in-law.  Amy suggested that "Frustrated" do some more research because her husband may have been a cosigner on the loan.  While that certainly is a possibility, it is not the most likely. 

In a subsequent column, "Patti" wrote in to disagree with the previously given advice. She wrote:

Dear Amy: I'm responding to "Frustrated," who is getting collection agency calls for her brother-in-law.

You suggested that her husband may have co-signed for a loan and that she should call the agency "to get to the bottom of their household's entanglement" with the brother-in-law's finances.

Allow me to disagree. Collection agencies find as many avenues as possible to collect their money.

I used to get calls for my stepsister's ex-husband, and she and I never even had the same last name!

I suggest ignoring the calls.  -- Patti

Apparently, "Patti" wasn't the only one who wrote in about the issue.  Since we are all voicing our opinions, I'd like to take a turn and suggest a course of action other than ignoring the calls. 

"Frustrated" said that she and her husband "received a message on our answering machine from a collection agency asking for my brother-in-law to be responsible and pay his bills."  If this is the case (and assuming that "Frustrated's" husband did not cosign for a loan), it appears as though the collector violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).  Section 804 of the FDCPA stats that "Any debt collector communicating with any person other than the consumer for the purpose of acquiring location infor­mation about the consumer shall not state that such consumer owes any debt."

My advice to "Frustrated" is that she report the collection agency's actions to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  While the FTC does not resolve individual consumer complaints, they do work to detect patterns of wrong-doing, and lead to investigations and prosecutions. The FTC also enters all complaints it receives into Consumer Sentinel, a secure online database that is used by thousands of civil and criminal law enforcement authorities worldwide.  The FTC receives more complaints about the debt collection industry than any other specific industry.  In 2007, the FTC received 70,951 FDCPA complaints. 

To stop future calls from this collector, "Frustrated" can simply pick up the phone one time and explain that she understands her rights under the FDCPA.  The FDCPA also states that "Any debt collector communicating with any person other than the consumer for the purpose of acquiring location infor­mation about the consumer shall not communicate with any such person more than once unless requested to do so by such person or unless the debt collector reasonably believes that the earlier response of such person is erroneous or incomplete and that such person now has correct or complete location information." 

BTW, on a more personal note, I think Amy's advice to "Frustrated" that she "tackle this issue now" was spot on.  Maybe "Frustrated" can positively influence and mentor both her brother-in-law and father-in-law.  That being said, I should probably mention that I am not an attorney or a family therapist!


Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.

  • Since 2007, the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HPF) has served as a trusted, neutral source of information for more than eight million homeowners. They are partnered with, and endorsed by, numerous major government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of the Treasury.

  • The mission of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD works to strengthen the housing market in order to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; and build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.

  • The Council on Accreditation (COA) is an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. Their mission is to partner with human service organizations worldwide to improve service delivery outcomes by developing, applying, and promoting accreditation standards.

  • The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.