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When a debt collector tries to snag you in a Catch-22

Is it safe to contact a debt collector and tell them to stop? @Davidlaz has the answer

Joyce finds herself in a debt-collection Catch-22. The following message was left on her answering machine:

"This message is for Maria D. Garza. If you are not the aforementioned person or if other parties can listen to this message, since it contains personal and private information, you should disconnect this call. By continuing to listen, you acknowledge that you are the aforementioned person and no one else can hear this message. There will be a three-second pause to re-confirm."

This was followed by a woman identifying herself as a debt collector and instructing Joyce to call the number she provided.

ASK LAZ: Smart answers to consumer questions

"I am unsure as to how to proceed," Joyce told me. "Is it safe to speak to these debt collectors and ask them to stop? All that I've read on the Internet seems to suggest that doing so is useless."

First of all, the approach being used by these guys is total nonsense. The idea that you're acknowledging you're the collection target by listening to a recorded message is nonsense. But it's a pretty clever way of trying to get you to call back, which is all they really want.

Consumers have rights when it comes to debt collection, including the right not to abused or harassed by collectors. More info on that is available here.

In answer to Joyce's question, my advice is to indeed call them back and tell them you're not Maria D. Garza. Some debt collectors will stop right there.

It's possible you'll be asked to submit something in writing. Do so. This is often a necessary step to halt an incorrect collection process.

After that, report any further communication from the collectors to the Federal Trade Commission.

If you have a consumer question, email me at or contact me via Twitter @Davidlaz.



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