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When a stranger calls, the debt collection horror story begins

Several years ago, the horror movie “When a Stranger Calls” was released. Have you ever received a phone call or a letter from someone who says you owe them money for a debt, but you’ve never even heard of the company calling? That is likely because the original debt, if it even was your debt, has been sold to a company that buys debts for pennies on the dollar. The debt could have been credit card charges, medical debt or even student loans.

While this is a common practice in the financial industry, many consumers in New Hampshire and around the country may not realize that their delinquent debt may be sold to a third-party debt collection company, sometimes even more than once.

When a debtor first receives notice of these collection efforts, the first instinct is often to ignore them, since the party trying to collect is unfamiliar to the consumer. But ignoring the notice may be the worst possible action. Failing to respond in some way may lead to years of fighting with the debt collector, leaving negative marks on credit reports that may be difficult to erase. 

In addition, the debt buyer makes a profit by turning over these collections quickly, so debtors who fight back, and especially those who answer the complaint with the assistance of an attorney, may find that the collector backs off to pick the low-hanging fruit.

There are ways to fight back:

  • First, verify that the debt is yours – if you have a common name, the debt collector may be contacting everyone with a similar name hoping for a hit.
  • If you have filed for bankruptcy, the debt could have already been discharged.
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission are looking into the practices of these companies, some of which may be subject to debtor protection laws such as the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

If you find yourself at the other end of a creditor’s third-party arrangement, depending on the validity and amount of the debt and your overall financial situation, consumer bankruptcy may be an option as well. 

Even short of filing for bankruptcy, an attorney who deals with consumer debt may be able to help defend against third-party collection efforts by forcing them to prove the existence of the debt and their legal right to collect it.

Source: New Republic, “Someone Else’s Debt Could Ruin Your Credit Rating,” David Dayen, March 30, 2014

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