"They're like, 'OK, you owe this money, we'll sell it for this (amount),' not even making sure it was even our debt," Tom McColl recalled.
The debt collector said there was an outstanding $1,400 balance on an 11-year-old credit card account in Mrs. McColl's maiden name. But the couple was certain the account never existed.
Chances were good they were right.
Credit experts have a few a names for the companies in this line of business: "Scavenger," "Junk" or "Zombie Debt Collectors." They're companies who've purchased debt for pennies on the dollar then chase down the debt hoping to make a profit.
"They'll put Susan Smith that lives in Pittsburgh together with Susan R. Smith that lives in Pittsfield. And all of the sudden they'll push the two together [and] all you'll get is a notice that you still owe $480," explained credit counseling expert Cate Williams.
The McColls said they decided to do a little research and pulled their credit reports before fighting back. Tom McColl said a check of his wife's history dating back to the time period in question confirmed his suspicion: no such credit card ever existed in her name.
The Virginia-based company which contacted the McColls is "Consumer Recovery Associates." A quick online search of the company revealed dozens of online complaints filed about the company's tactics by consumers nationwide. Consumer Recovery Associates did not return calls to NBC Chicago.
In general, the debt collection industry garners a steady stream of consumer complaints. Last year, the Better Business Bureau received 891 complaints against debt collectors from Chicago consumers. Nationwide, that number was 15,628.
Tom McColl said the calls from the debt collector were so insistent and irritating that the family ultimately changed its phone number.
"The day after the initial call, they called back again saying that we were going to give you a good deal, but now it's over and we're going to report you to your credit. They were basically trying to take a noodle and throw it against the wall and see if it sticks," said McColl.
If a "Zombie Debt Collector" enters your life, there are a number of protections available to you. The Fair Debt Collection Act is aimed at keeping collectors from using abusive, unfair or deceptive practices to get money from consumers.