Some listeners have been receiving letters from debt recovery companies even though they have no financial problems.
The mailings are trying to track down problem debtors but in this case the recipients merely share similar names to them
We asked for your views. This debate is now closed. A selection of your comments are below.
I work as a senior manager within the debt recovery industry and as such deal with companies such as Equifax as well as the other two major credit reference agencies. It is vital that as an industry we do all we can to ensure that only the correct people are contacted in relation to unpaid debts. However with such large volumes it is reasonable to expect that we may get it wrong in a small number of cases. However, no action is ever taken against an individual until it has been confirmed that they are in fact the debtor. I often find it frustrating when the media portray debt recovery as the big bad wolf of consumer finance, when in fact there are a lot of positives provided by our industry not only to the creditor but to the debtor too. As an industry we have moved away from the use of scare tactics as a means to recover money and employed more of an advisory role. That said, we do sometimes have to resort to the use of the courts when agreements cannot be reached.
Two years ago I was pursued by a debt collection company working on behalf of a phone provider who were chasing me for an unpaid bill of £351. I had never lived at the address specified and was living in a different area of the country at the time. They wrote a number of very unpleasant, threatening letters and made numerous phone calls. Eventually I had to engage a solicitor to act on my behalf and after numerous letters they stopped about a year later. The really annoying thing was that there was no apology and no compensation ever offered for the costs I incurred. Luckily enough I was in a position to be able to afford help in resolving the issue. Despite not hearing from them for a while I still live in fear of the process starting up again.
We recently moved into a new address and started receiving debt collection letters regarding the previous tenant. My experience is that the collection agencies use poor information, sometimes simply referring to The Resident. I can understand errors occur but it's the tone of the letters I mainly object to. They are often accusing and threatening, which for some people (who are not the actual debtors) could be quite worrying. If the debt agencies aren't going to spend more time being confident about the source of their information, they should tone down the language of their letters, at least when initially trying making contact.
Robert, St Neots
It was suggested on the programme that you should give personal information so the debt collection agency can confirm you are not the debtor. That seems a very dangerous response. Whoever has written the letter does not know much about you - otherwise they would not have written to you. You ring them up and give them all the personal information they ask for. They tell you they are very sorry - they have made a mistake and your credit record will be corrected. You breathe a sigh of relief and get on with your life. But how do you know you were really speaking to a real debt collection agency? You have just been forced to give a lot of personal information to a complete stranger - information they could use to get credit in your name.
Don't think for one moment that credit reference agencies are there to serve your interests. They exist to serve the financial organisations, mobile phone companies, utilities, insurance and so on. When you apply for services (such as mobile phone) they will check with other companies who have dealt with you before they decide if you're worthy. Why should your dealings with one company be spread to a third party?
I received a statement claiming I was overdrawn on a bank account I did not hold to the tune of £1,500. For me it just took time, trouble and money to sort out. I had access to a legal advice phone line and could have afforded to pay a solicitor if necessary so I never really lost any sleep over the matter. My concern is that many people I know would not know where to begin to counter a false claim and would be ill with worry. On the programme it was indicated that in the case mentioned the address had been obtained from the electoral roll. I understood that the electoral roll was made available to financial organizations for a strictly limited range of purposes. I am surprised if these purposes include helping debt recovery agencies in "fishing expeditions".
I was phoned at least once a day for a nine month period by a debt collection agency trying to track down a debt defaulter for a bank. The person in question had previously lived at our address. No matter how often I explained that the debtor had sold us the house four years ago, the debt collection agency refused to believe me. This was a period when my mother was ill (in fact, dying) and the constant phone calls were very distressing. Finally, we complained to the bank, threatened them with closing my husband's business account and legal action if they did not instruct the debt collection agency to stop. What was really upsetting was the way that the people at the end of the phone simply refused to believe anything we said.
Shiona, Dunkeld, Perthshire
I received a letter from a card company chasing me for not paying my credit card bill. I have never had an credit card with that company or any other card for that matter. when I rang them up they said just to ignore it. I was very worried that I was the victim of identity theft. Fortunately this has proved not to be true but it really made me wary and I now shred all my mail.
The worst part is not that they get it wrong, it is that they believe that they are always right or and/or if they keep making demands, the people will do the work for them to get them off their backs. Threatening behaviour as part of what they do is the reason they have a bad reputation.
I have received several letters to my address, not addressed to me. I just returned them to sender, with a note that the person concerned did not live here. As the letters continued to arrive, I opened one and found it was from a debt recovery agency pursuing a debt of £381.39 on behalf of a bank and it said there would be a visit by a debt investigation officer. I e-mailed the company immediately. Despite this, I received a further letter and an invitation to settle the debt on "favourable terms" - to pay half of it. I wrote once more, and since then the letters finally seem to have stopped. But it has caused me considerable anxiety, as I was concerned the debt would be linked to me and had to go to the expense of obtaining a credit report to ensure it is not the case. Also, it begs the question - why was this person able to fraudulently open an account, giving a totally incorrect address?
I received a demand for a payment of £117.99, from a debt recovery company. The letter was addressed to someone called Irene (wrong gender) with the same surname as mine, at my address. This person is not at this address, is not known to me, and I had bought nothing from the company concerned. The letter demanded payment within seven days or court action would be taken. It is quite worrying to receive one of these letters as one immediately suspects identity fraud. Thank you Money Box, for tackling this issue and asking tough questions of these companies.
Ian, Newcastle upon Tyne
I strongly disagree with the advice that people should give companies all the data they request when instances of false billing arise. I have been receiving bills from a phone company addressed to someone who has never lived in my house. On investigation, I found that the handset was sold on the swipe of a stolen card, and no check of the address was made when setting up the credit agreement. The company is demanding my name, address, date of birth, and signature, data which they did not get from their customer. I consider these demands an invasion of my privacy which I believe contravenes the Data Protection Act.
I was mistakenly chased for a debt of £10,000 by a debt collection agency acting on behalf of a bank. The person they were trying to contact had a similar name to me. I received calls and letters from both the bank and debt collection agency demanding money apparently overdrawn on the account. I had to send a copy of my birth certificate before the bank would accept I was not the person they were trying to contact. In the end I got a written apology from the bank, a cheque for £100, and a reassurance that my name had not been included in any debt register, but only after threatening to take the matter to the Financial Ombudsman. I have received two further phone calls from a debt collection agency to whom I referred to the bank and my previous correspondence. As far as I know the bank's investigations are still ongoing. My wife and I found the matter very stressful.
I heard the advice given to someone who was wrongly targeted by a debt collector, which was to contact the debt collector with appropriate evidence of identity, and also that, for a small fee, one can check for any impact on one's credit rating. This seems to me wrong, however, that a victim of mistaken identity should have to pay out to clear their names. Debt collectors work for profit - it can be a lucrative industry - and I think that when it is clear that they have made a mistake they should compensate the victim for the expenses and inconvenience caused.
I had the same thing. I was sent a bailiff's letter demanding £600 to pay a debt for speeding fines, parking fines, leaving the scene of an accident... all in Devon/Staffordshire for a time when I was actually in New Zealand. It took me a whole day to clear it up. It turned out that it was someone called something similar to me.
Tom Smith, York
I discovered that two mobile phone companies had each accepted a contract from a named customer using my address. This person is completely unknown to me, and has never lived here. I informed both companies. Yesterday, I received a letter from a debt recovery firm, addressed to the person holding the phone contract. Once again, I contacted the phone company, and asked them to stop sending correspondence to my address. I also expressed concern that my address had been passed to a debt recovery company. This should not have happened, since it was clear from the beginning that my address was unconnected to this individual. Furthermore, I object very strongly to incorrect personal information being created, and especially to its propagation by companies trying to recover debt. I have been reassured by both companies that my credit rating will be unaffected. I think the least they can do is offer to pay for the credit reference companies to provide credit reports to the victims of this type of fraud. It is after all caused by a failure in their processes for checking credit references before they accept new mobile phone contracts. It is also a shame that the victims of this type of crime have to spend hours of their own time trying to resolve these matters.
We were telephoned for an entire year by a debt recovery company acting on behalf of a major company. The callers were chasing a debt owed by a woman and had erroneously got our phone number. We informed them time and time again that there was no-one at our address by that name. They continued to call and became increasingly aggressive and rude. I wrote to them but the calls continued. I also contacted Trading Standards and the OFT. In the end, we changed our phone number and paid for BT's call blocking service. The whole experience was very distressing and caused great disruption and upset in our lives. There appears to be no protection at all for consumers who are erroneously pursued by debt collection agencies and there is no free way for individuals to protect themselves from this form of highly intrusive attack.
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