Receivable/Accounts - Information for Credit and Collection Issues

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Mistaken Identity and the Collection Agency

Often, when files are sent to collections, they come with incorrect or incomplete data. Specifically, when this comes to contact information such as current addresses, telephone numbers, or email addresses, this results in skip-trace accounts, wrong numbers being called, or people with similar names being confused. The source of this is miscommunication at some point in the credit cycle. And unfortunately, it plagues and frustrates all parties involved.

Advice for the Creditor

If a creditor does not keep their information current, this harms the collection agency’s chances of being able to recover their debts. If you don’t keep your information current, this can affect your company’s reputation and waste your agency’s time – details regarding internal controls are covered in this blog article: . The key advice to take here is to update your customers’ information on a regular basis, whether they are delinquent or current – it’s just good business sense.

Advice for the Collection Agency

If you call a number, and you are told you have the wrong number, don’t assume every person is lying. One of the foremost complaints I get about our industry centers around wrong numbers.

Yes, some of the debtors are lying to you. However, if they are lying to you, they are willing to go to great lengths to avoid paying their account, either through fear or a lack of income. If you can prove the debtor does live at the number, as the various provincial collection acts state, then you can call back. But to demean people who may have assumed the debtor’s old number, or to take pot-shots in the dark against people who have similar names isn’t going to be productive or profitable.

Collectors, when you are told you have a wrong number:

• Confirm the number you dialed is the number you think you dialed.

• Ask how long they have had this number, and compare it to the date of delinquency on file.

• Reverse look up the telephone number to verify ownership of the number.

• Note all relevant details (the name on the answering machine, how the number was acquired) for future reference.

• Stop calling. Really. If it’s a wrong number today, will it change in a day or two?

• Be polite! If 90% of the time you honestly have the wrong number, there is no reason to be anything other than professional.

If you have received a set of aged accounts, throwing them on a predictive dialer is not always the best solution! Either manually work a sampling to understand the accuracy of the data, scrub the accounts against the credit bureau or a data verification service prior to making the first call, or proceed with caution. For data scrubbing on Canadian files, I highly recommend Cleanlist – they can be found at

Advice for the Consumer

If you are on the receiving end of the collection calls for someone you don’t even know, take a deep breath and understand that the former owner of your number may have distributed it to dozens of creditors, and it may continue to appear on the credit bureau or in databases for years to come. However, there is a simple way to deal with recurring calls.

• If a collection agency is leaving repeated messages, call them back – they aren’t psychic, and they don’t know they have a wrong number until you tell them.

• Be honest and tell the collection agency how long you have had the number, and your last name. The less you appear to be hiding something, the less likely they will call back.

• Don’t expect the collection agency to give you sordid details about the previous telephone number’s owner and their debt – they are required by law to not discuss the debt with an outside third party. You can state “I know you are a collection agency”, and they will likely cooperate, however.

• Politely ask for no more calls. Do not yell or abuse the collection agent, or make him the target of your frustrations. Do not try to charge him for your long distance call of 50 cents, do not expect him to be able to stop all the other creditors to magically update their data. The agent you talk to will be able to stop his agency from calling, and that’s it.

One of the biggest frustrations consumers get is when the number of a chronic debtor is reassigned to them. In extreme cases, these poor people with the reassigned number get dozens of calls in a week. My best advice is change your answering machine message to something like this “You have reached the home of [consumer], at [telephone number]. Please leave a message at the tone. If this is a call for [old consumer], please note you have the wrong number – this telephone number was reassigned to us on [date]. Thank you”

If the collection calls do not cease after you have informed the agency you have a wrong number, or the collection agent is belligerent or rude, ask for their agency name, the agent’s name, and their address – mail a letter to them requesting no further calls, and copy the provincial consumer body that governs collection agencies.

If this is a case where you have a similar name to the original consumer, and your contact information has been confused, ask the collection agency to verify their debtor’s information by comparing dates of birth, middle names, addresses, references or named family members on file, or the like. These cases can be very tricky sometimes, and the act of sending a registered letter as above may be necessary. But there is a special caveat here! If the creditor or agency places your contact information on file, and then reports to the credit bureau, your files can become entwined and confused. Definitely check with the credit bureau companies Trans Union and Equifax on a regular basis to ensure your information is yours alone.

The numbers for the credit bureau companies in Canada are:

Trans Union Services 1-800-663-9980
Equifax 1-800-937-4093


There is a lot of frustration on both sides of the fence – if everyone takes a calming breath and explains their information to the other side, often the miscommunications that started this problem can be corrected. At the heart of it, no one wants to aggravate someone or waste each other’s time, and these issues can be worked out.

As always, if you have any questions regarding the issue of data verification, or if you are receiving calls in error, you are certainly welcome to contact myself for specific advice.

Blair Wettlaufer
Kingston Data and Credit
Cambridge, Ontario

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