11/01/2012 10:24 EDT | Updated 10/28/2013 08:28 EDT

Collection Agency Hounds Debt-Free B.C. Residents

Nearly 900 complaints have been filed with the B.C. Consumer Protection Branch over the last five years against a U.S.-based debt collection company, CBC News has learned.

The complaints against iQor Inc. claim the company hounded people with incessant, intimidating and often unwarranted calls.

“It’s very stressful,” said Christina Wensley, of Maple Ridge, who said she tried to ignore a seemingly endless string of calls from iQor.

Wensley said the calls were always a recorded message, leaving a phone number and saying, “It's really important you call us back.”

Wensley said knew she didn't owe anyone money, but the constant intrusions on her family life, with nearly daily calls for month, took a toll.

“When your phone rings and you know it’s them, it’s just a sinking feeling,” Wensley said.

The Consumers Association of Canada says iQor is playing dirty.

[It’s] blatantly offensive for the iQor people to behave in that manner. It's also illegal to call anyone about a debt that isn't directly theirs,” said association president Bruce Cran.

In a statement to CBC, iQor said it’s working to fix the problem.

"iQor takes seriously any call placed to a wrong number and regrets the inconvenience caused to any consumer,” the statement said, adding that the company “has developed statistical models to identify likely wrong numbers."

Mistakes are common

Credit counsellors say that because thousands of British Columbians share a surname, mistakes are common.

“We see a ‘P. Singh’ in the phone book and [debt collectors] automatically assume that must be the individual,” said Scott Hannah, of the Credit Counselling Society of B.C.

“While time is taken to verify who the individual is, at times they’ve got the wrong person."

Hannah said that anyone who is hounded for a debt that isn’t theirs should call the collection agents back right away and tell them.

“Tell them, ‘You've got the wrong party. Do not contact me again.’ It forces that collection agency to say, ‘Well, maybe we do have the wrong person,’” said Hannah.

Wensley eventually did approach the agency with that message and the calls have stopped.

Experts say that legally, it’s up to the collection agency to prove someone owes money, not the other way around. If they don't have proof, they're supposed to stop calling.