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WASHINGTON (WUSA9 Call for Action)--It's bad enough to have a call from a debt collector when you owe a debt. But what if the caller is trying to collect for a debt you don't even owe?

Is this a common problem?

More common that is comfortable for consumers!

There seems to be an increase in collection agencies harassing consumers who do not owe the debt. There are specific laws that protect consumers from unscrupulous and overly aggressive debt collection agencies.

MORE: Fake Debt Collectors

One consumer was contacted by a collection agency and the caller became verbally abusive when she denied owing the money.

She did not realize that the collection agency was required to provide her with a statement that proved the debt was legitimate. Once we told her to ask for documentation the harassing calls stopped. That was two years ago. The agency dropped the collection efforts because it lacked proof she owed the debt. Sometimes it is not that easy, companies will continue to call even when there is no proof the person being called owes anything!

Why call if there is no proof?

There may actually be a debt that is owed by someone with a similar name, previously lived at the same address or other legitimate reasons the company believes they have the correct person. However, in some cases intimidation is used to try and collect from anyone with a similar name or address. Keep in mind, the caller has probably heard every imaginable excuse as to why the debt isn't legitimate. But sometimes it isn't!

MORE: How to file a complaint with your state's Attorney General

Legitimate debt collection companies provide a service to businesses that are owed money. However, some of them overstep the bounds of permitted behavior. They are the ones that should be reported to federal authorities.

How can consumers protect themselves?

No matter how insistent the caller, do not give out any personal information such as bank account, credit card number or other data.

Federal law requires that you be provided written proof you owe the debt. No proof, no collection? It may be prudent to write the collection company and deny the debt and ask for proof to substantiate their claim in order to stop the calls and other collection efforts.

MORE: How debt collection works

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