There are many debt collectors and law firms that try to collect money from consumers for alleged debts. Sometimes the debt is actually owed, sometimes it is not. Sometimes it is too old to collect. Sometimes the collector or lawyer is trying to collect more than what is owed. Sometimes you do not even know if you owe the debt or what it is from (and neither does the collector).
If this is happening to you, there are a few things you should know. The first is: Who is trying to collect?
This is important because the law has different standards. If it is the original creditor, such as the bank that issued you the credit card, you have very few protections against them. However, if it is a debt collector, which typically includes debt collection attorneys, then they have to comply with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (also called the FDCPA). This federal law provides several protections for consumers from debt collectors. Among these protections are that they cannot collect debt that is not actually owed under an agreement or law. They also cannot contact you at work if you tell them not to. They also cannot contact you once you are represented by an attorney. There are lots more which can be found in a summary of the FDCPA here. While some collectors comply with this law, many do not. Some completely disregard it. This is where it is very helpful to have an attorney to protect you - often we can "turn the tables" on these collectors and put them on the receiving end of a lawsuit.
Two questions that often come up in these types of cases are:
(1) Where did this debt come from? and
(2) How was it resurrected into Zombie form?
The answers to these are intertwined. Most likely, if you had a credit card or other debt many years ago and stopped paying, for whatever reason, you "defaulted" on that debt. At some point, the bank that issued you the credit wrote off the account and sold it to a debt collector for about 3-7% of its value. So, if you owed $5,000 and with late fees, over-limit fees and interest and 28% tacked on, your purported debt would be about $7,000 by the time the account was sold for about $350, along with millions of dollars of other defaulted accounts. The collector then has to look at the data it has about you, which often will include a credit report, and decide if it wants to come after you and to what degree. Some just use phone calls and letters, some go straight to filing a lawsuit against you and others try various other things. Regardless of how they try to collect the debt, there is one thing that is clear - it is up to them to prove that you owe it, not up to you to prove that you do not. If they decide to file a lawsuit, they have to prove not only that you owe it, but also that they have the right to collect it. Again, you are not obligated to prove that you do not. The important thing to remember is that this situation is rarely hopeless. Rather, there are lawyers that can help to get out from under this and you do not have to put up with harassing debt collection.
At The Cohn Law Firm, LLC, we represent consumers who are being hounded by debt collectors and original creditors. We have helped hundreds of consumers resolve hundreds of thousands of dollars in alleged debt. Please call us to discuss your particular situation.