Dear Consumer Ed:

I received a letter from a collection agency trying to get me to pay off a debt for half of what they claim is owed. I know this debt is false because I called the original creditor, who said they have no record whatsoever of my having an outstanding balance with them at any point.  They told me to call the collection agency, but I wasn’t sure if that was the right way to handle this.  If I call the collection agency, am I confirming that I owe the debt?  Do I have to dispute the debt in writing?

Consumer Ed says:

Merely asking for proof of an alleged debt does not confirm that you owe it. However, when you ask, you need to be very careful not to in any way acknowledge that the debt is or could be valid, especially if it is so old that it is outside the statute of limitations for collection.  The best thing to do is send the debt collector a written request asking for proof of the debt (this is called a request for verification).  You should do this within 30 days of when you were first contacted by the debt collector.

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act the debt collector should respond by providing you with written information about the debt, including the amount of the debt, the name of the creditor, and a statement that if you dispute the debt in writing within 30 days, the collector will obtain verification of the debt and send it to you.  The debt collector must also suspend collection efforts until it has given you this written verification, which it must provide within 30 days of receiving your written request. 

To help document these timelines, you should always send these letters via a method that provides proof of when they were sent and received, such as Certified Mail, Fedex, etc. Be sure to keep copies of all correspondence.

You can prevent a debt collector from contacting you further by writing a letter instructing it to stop, or stating that you refuse to pay the alleged debt.  This will not prevent a debt collector from pursuing its claim against you in court, but should keep you from being harassed further. If necessary, you can contact an attorney.

For more information about disputing a debt or dealing with debt collectors, click here.

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