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What Should You Do If a Debt You’re Accused of Isn’t Valid?
It can always make you nervous when a debt collector calls, but it is even more stressful when you believe the debt they are collecting isn’t valid. Sometimes you may have paid a bill already and a clerical error had the debt sent to a collection agency regardless. Other times it may be a case of identify theft or fraud. Still other cases of invalid debt could affect you if you cancel for a service that continues to bill you. For example maybe you cancelled a gym membership or a cell phone plan, but the paperwork was not done on their end properly. This could leave you with a collection account that you must deal with or it could affect your credit score.
In any of these cases, you have the right to learn more. The original contact from a collector is known as a demand letter. It is should always contain information on how to get more details about the debt you supposedly owe. Furthermore, you may request the debt be validated. By law, consumers have the right to request a validation of any debt in collection. The collector must respond with verification within five business days.
Unfortunately a debt validation does not always end up being useful. There is no current legal definition or threshold of “proof” of a debt. Sometimes a simple statement of to whom the debt is owed with a copy of the corresponding statement is considered enough. Usually you will get more useful information, therefore, if you ask specific questions in your request. They are required to take your concerns into consideration. For example, do you think that they have the wrong person? In that case ask for confirmation of your ID, such as the last four digits of your social security number. Do you believe you already paid that debt? Send information with your proof of payment and ask why it was not sufficient. The more specific you are, the better. If you ask the right questions, this can be taken care of much more quickly. The debt collector should always respond to you in a respectful and clear manner.
Once you find out what information they have that makes them believe that the debt is valid, you can either accept the debt and begin payments or contest it formally. If you have proof that the debt is invalid, you can submit it to the collector and they should cancel the debt. Regrettably, it is not usually so simple. The burden of proof required to continue to attempt to collect the debt is very low, while the proof required by the consumer is quite high.
For this reason, it can be very helpful to contact a consumer debt lawyer if the collector does not recognize the debt as invalid. Robert Hobbs, deputy director of the National Consumer Law Center, suggests you “find someone who specializes in fair debt collection problems. They may say, ‘that’s interesting . . . you may have a case.’ Or they may tell you that you don’t.” Consulting a lawyer can save a lot of time and money pursuing a claim. If you need to file a formal claim in court against the collector, you will probably need the support of an experienced professional to build your case.
If you are currently fighting a collector about a debt you believe to be invalid, contact Luftman, Heck and Associates today at (888) 726-3181 for a free consultation to learn about what you can do in your specific case. We can give you a fair assessment of your case and suggest next steps. We know how difficult it can be to resolve invalid debts in the current system, but we are highly skilled in working to get you the best results possible. You should never be responsible for an invalid debt, but you can’t always fight collectors alone. That is why we are here for you every step of the way.