Martha Baffour's day often began with a ringing phone and a demand for money.

The voices from strange area codes and 800 numbers were sometimes friendly; they would address Baffour by name and ask her how she was doing. At other times, the debt collectors took a tougher approach.

"This is your debt. No one told you to get these credit cards," Baffour, of Frederick, said they would tell her.

"I don't have it right now. I can't settle something with you," she would say.

Exasperated, she sometimes replied, "What do you want me to do, rob a bank?"

Recent years have been a struggle for Baffour and her family. At one point, her husband was out of work, and once-manageable credit card payments piled up and became overwhelming.

For a stretch of months from 2009 to 2010, the calls from collectors flooded her home, work and family members.

Things got even worse when she received a summons notifying her that a company was taking her to court for a debt she believed she had settled years before. According to the notice, she owed the company more than $10,000 for charges -- plus interest and fees -- she had made on a Target credit card in 2003.

"I didn't know what to do," she said.

Baffour is not alone in her feeling of powerlessness against the debt industry.

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