Last year, 41 percent of the debt-collection complaints received by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau concerned repeated attempts to collect a debt the consumer didn’t owe. Here are three steps you can take to fight this phantom debt.

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The phone rings. You don’t recognize the number, but you answer anyway. It’s a debt collector demanding immediate payment on a debt that doesn’t belong to you, or one you’ve already paid. Suddenly you’re facing a phantom — a phantom debt, that is.

That debt might not belong to you, but telling that to the collector — who is either misinformed or a scammer — won’t earn you a reprieve.

Last year, 41 percent of the debt-collection complaints received by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau concerned repeated attempts to collect a debt the consumer didn’t owe — more than any other type of collection complaint.

Your consumer rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act give you tools to fight back against collectors.

Here are three steps to vanquish phantom debt:

1. Get the details

You have the right to demand information from debt collectors, including their agency’s name, physical address and phone number.

The first time a collector calls about an unfamiliar debt, ask for a validation letter confirming details. If the debt is legitimate but already paid, these details will help you identify the account. And scammers might be scared off by the request.

Communication should be a one-way street, with information flowing to — not from — you. Safeguard personal data, such as your bank account details and Social Security number, no matter how hard a collector presses you to “confirm” them.

2. Round up evidence

Send a written request that the collector stop contacting you for payment on the debt. The debt-collection act says collectors must comply.

If you’re dealing with a misinformed collector, use this time to gather proof you paid. Then notify the collector; consider sending a copy of proof of payment using certified mail to ensure receipt.

Finally, check your credit reports to verify the debt is listed as paid. If not, dispute the credit reports that have the error.

If you’re dealing with a persistent scammer who wasn’t scared off, cite your debt-collection rights and demand no further contact. That might be enough to make scammers move on to an easier mark.

3. Call in the big guns

If the collector won’t back down or respect your consumer rights, file complaints with authorities who have the power to investigate: the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and your state attorney general’s office.

“Be very proactive in regard to any debt that a collector is asking you to pay, especially if you don’t recognize it,” says Vivian Padua, a certified financial coach in San Francisco.

“Take care of these accounts … (so) you can move on with your life.”