DAVIDSON COUNTY, N.C. -- Frances Marshall can’t escape the ringing of the phone.
“For the past two years I have been getting these off the wall calls,” said Marshall.
The Davidson County woman says she receives threatening calls from debt collectors.
“I said, ‘What did I do?’ naturally,” Marshall said. “And they said because of the outstanding debts you owe.”
The catch is Marshall says she doesn’t have any delinquent or outstanding debt but has been illegally threatened with arrest and criminal charges. She shared the voicemails with FOX8.
One caller from a Charlotte area code said:
“I have been retained to investigate and possibly file two criminal charges against defendant named Frances Marshall. It is very urgent that you give me aall right away... I received some information from the attorney's office; looks like they will proceed with litigation against you in court. If they do not receive a reply within 24 hours this case will be leaving my office. I'm giving you one last opportunity to resolve it. If you do want so, you can reach me directly...Ms. Frances you have been officially notified. This message is very time sensitive any failure to contact my office may result in further actions being taken against you."
After weekly threats, Frances tells FOX8 she started believing the callers.
“I'm thinking there goes my house, there goes my husband, my home .. there goes everything," Marshall said.
To make matters worse, Frances says the callers have been able to provide sensitive information like her social security number.
"I felt very violated," said Marshall. “I felt like people were watching me because they said they had people outside my house."
The great grandmother says she has contacted the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office but the calls continue. She almost handed over money to make the threats stop.
“I just wanted to pay them and get it off my back,” said Marshall.
Mark Littrell, owner and president of debt collecting agency Source Receivables Management in Greensboro, says Marshall’s voicemails and calls raise several questions.
“The criminal part strikes me as very odd because there's no such thing as debtors prison,” said Littrell.
Littrell said it's illegal to tell someone that they may face criminal charges for a debt.
“I don’t know any of the instances where someone actually faces criminal charges for a debt unless it’s a court system calling them," said Littrell.
Littrell said there are state and federal laws that debt collectors must follow.
"Someone that would claim they're going to take criminal action against someone,” said Littrell. “Yeah, that strikes me as very strange."
“They said 'If you want to go this far and have your neighbors see you taken out in handcuffs, we'll be happy to do so,'” Marshall said. “Well that scared the living daylights out of me.”
Littrell said it is illegal for a debt collecting agency or company to tell someone that they're going to forward charges against someone.
“In the State of North Carolina, specifically, debt collection agencies can't even garnish wages," Littrell said.
The Federal Trade Commission requires that debt collectors provide a written notice called a validation of debts.
"Outlines the consumer’s rights and it gives them a chance to dispute the debt,” Littrell said.
Frances says the debt collectors who call her ignore her requests for anything in writing. Marshall recently turned to Davidson County Clerk of Superior Court Brian Shipwash for help.
“She could be my mom,” Shipwash said. “It hits close to home."
Shipwash said that he has tried calling on Frances’ behalf, with her consent, but the debt collectors also ignored requests for a written notice outlining the debt they claim Marshall has.
"Send me something, fax me a copy… what does she owe? Put it writing,” said Shipwash. “Show us... and of course they refused to that."
“They harass me constantly,” said Marshall. “I mean... there's no peace.”
Marshall says the callers also claim she owes varying amounts of money depending on the phone call.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act lays out your rights as consumers whether you owe money or not. Under section 806, it is illegal for debt collectors to harass, oppress or abuse anyone when trying to collect a debt.
It’s also illegal to threaten consumers, like Frances, with criminal prosecution.
Littrell says consumers should know their rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
“We're usually armed with some really good, myriad of tools to use to try and help consumers through their problems,” said Littrell. “For example, we’re given settlement authority where we can settle bill for much less than the original bill [and] we can take payments for a long term process.”
However, Littrell says to never ignore the calls.
"The problem so many people have is they try to avoid it and avoid and avoid and avoid,” said Littrell. “And two years later they're still getting phone calls… when in reality, if they just take care of it, they won't get any more phone calls."
Frances Marshall admits she’s taken out fast cash loans in the past.
"I'm not ashamed to tell you,” said Marshall.
But Marshall says she’s paid it all back and has pulled the paperwork to prove it. Still, the calls won’t stop.
“They've taken my life away,” said Marshall.
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said that if you’re dealing with the same situation as Frances -- threatening calls and debt collectors not listening -- then you should file a report with the North Carolina Department of Justice.
A consumer specialist with the North Carolina Department of Justice contacted Frances Marshall after we forwarded her information to the Attorney General Roy Cooper’s Office.
Cooper says his office received more than 1,800 complaints in 2013 filed against debt collectors for such things as threatening calls and other illegal practices.
After FOX8 contacted the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office, Frances says she received a call from deputies telling her to file a report. The sheriff’s office says it has a deputy assigned to investigate these cases and recommends people dealing with similar situations to check their credit history to determine whether any new lines of credit have been opened as it could be a case of identity theft.
FOX8 also asked Attorney General Roy Cooper about the legitimacy of the calls. It’s something the NCDOJ will explore.
Many people find themselves in similar situations but never turn to local law enforcement or the North Carolina Department of Justice, Cooper said.
Frances hopes sharing her story will inspire others to know their rights and to seek help before reaching a breaking point.
"I know there's other people out there that are doing the same thing, feeling the same thing, and they have nowhere to turn,” said Marshall.
FOX8 tried repeatedly to get in touch with debt collectors and investigators who have left Frances Marshall threatening voicemail messages. We were told by several collectors who answered that they could not speak with us about Frances Marshall’s case or provide general information about their company.