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by Sid Kirchheimer, AARP Bulletin, September 10, 2010
Q. I keep getting harassing phone calls from a collection agency for a debt that isn't even mine. They say they won't stop calling unless I give them my Social Security number. Should I?
A. Absolutely not. Debt collectors often ask for Social Security numbers, birth dates or other personal information to ensure they have reached the correct debtor. The problem is, scammers also pose as debt collectors in an attempt to get personal info from folks they call, and many victims provide it in an attempt to prove a debt isn't theirs.
A better response: Have the caller tell you the Social Security number or other information that's on file for the debt, so you can verify whether it's yours or not. Callers who won't provide this may be identity thieves.
In your case, the caller was a legitimate collector—Dell Financial Services, the financing division of the computer manufacturer. You were told your number was being called because it previously belonged to the real debtor, whose name has no similarity to yours.
Although the "wrong party" calls should have stopped within 24 hours, Dell spokesperson David Frink says they continued for weeks because the employees on your case mishandled it. He offered assurances you won't be bothered again.
Here's advice for anyone getting repeated debt collection calls, whether or not they're about a legitimate debt.
Ask Sid a question about scams, deals and other consumer issues.
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life (AARP Books/Sterling).
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