Debt Collector Trying To Collect 7 Year Old Debt

james: my wife got a collection notice yesterday about a verizon account she had with roommates in college back in 2000
james: account was transferred when she moved out, there was remaining balance, verizon never alerted her and she just heard from collections yesterday, 7 years later
benpopken: ha
benpopken: 7 years?
benpopken: that debt cannot be collected
james: yeah literally
james: really?
james: oh she’s going to love that!
benpopken: It’s not from Verizon, right? Some collection agency?
james: yup
james: AFNI collections
benpopken: Six years is the statute of limitations on debt [ed. It is, for NY, where James is. SOL varies by state, see this chart]
benpopken: these guys buy debt from other companies for pennies on the dollar, then harass people who don’t know better
benpopken: but you may want to write a letter to the company asking for them to provide proof of the debt
james: wow
james: i had no idea
james: do you think it will affect her credit?
benpopken: it will not
benpopken: bad debt falls off the record after 7 years
james: oh right
james: ridiculous that verizon doesn’t alert customers
james: when my wife was on the phone with the collection people last night the woman told her that she hears it all the time
benpopken: yeah they will tell you anything on the phone
benpopken: anything to get you to pay up
benpopken: most debt collectors are scum

(Photo: Clearly Ambiguous)


james: i’m so glad we talked about this
benpopken: you should hear some of the recordings
james: thanks so much!
benpopken: let me know if they start harassing you guys or keep calling
benpopken: b/c they’re not allowed to do either
james: i definitely will
james: ok here’s another question
james: apparently my wife told this woman she would call back and pay later
james: which sounds like it = acknowledging the debt
benpopken: doesn’t matter
james: because the statute of limitations has passed?
benpopken: Yes
james: whew
benpopken: Look, if they call again say you know your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act
benpopken: and that they need to provide proof of the debt in writing
benpopken: and all further communication will be in writing
james: ok great
benpopken: Tell them they’re only allowed to contact you by phone to inform you of the debt
james: sorry for all the questions. she’s freaking out a bit
benpopken: hey can’t keep calling you to tell you to pay
benpopken: no, I understand
benpopken: I’m going to give you some links
benpopken: http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs27-debtcoll.htm
benpopken: that is pretty much everything you need to know
benpopken: “Things Debt Collectors Can’t Do
benpopken: ““I Will Threaten Bodily Harm,” A Loan Shark’s Confession
benpopken: Credit Reports: How Long Different Items Stay
benpopken: I also have a lawyer friend who specializes in protecting debtors
benpopken: I can put you in touch if you ever need to
james: well i appreciate the offer but hopefully it won’t come to needing a lawyer
james: do these people typically give up if they’re dealing with someone who understands their rights?
benpopken: Oftentimes, yes
james: cool
benpopken: They mainly prey on people who don’t know the law
benpopken: and use fear and bullying tactics
benpopken: sometimes really bad, sometimes just being underhanded

We should note that if Jame’s wife actually does owe the money, she has an obligation to pay it. However, proof of the debt needs to be provided in writing first. — BEN POPKEN

Comments

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  1. iMike says:

    Didn’t know Ben was a lawyer. The answer whether a debt is collectible is much more complicated than a blanket “six years and you’re home free.”

    That said, plenty of creditors/collections agencies try to collect outside the statute of limitations. If that’s the case, you have them by the short curlys IF you know what to do and are willing to do it.

    Start at the links Ben provided above and should you have questions, contact a lawyer who practices in your jurisdiction and who has experience in collections on the consumer side.

  2. samuraimonkey says:

    the best things to do when dealing with a debt collector is to ask for validation of the debt in writing(a certified letter with return receipt) if after 30 days they cannot validate the debt then they have to report it as such. If you want them to stop calling or sending you letters then ask them to cease and desist(certified letter is good here too).
    All debt collectors have to follow the FDCPA, so its good to read up on that too.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_Debt_Collection_Practice

  3. dwarf74 says:

    HA! My first job was at AFNI, though not in collections. It’s a local company, and I still know some folks in the collection area. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were trying to collect an uncollectable debt….

  4. Seth_Went_to_the_Bank says:

    Ben is incorrect about the statute of limitations. It varies widely from state to state.

    There are also a lot of tricks they use to try and extend the statute of limitations. Nonetheless, it can’t appear on your credit report after 7 years. But none of this means they can’t keep trying to collect the debt forever.

    As Ben says, you can tell them to stop contacting you. If the debt gets sold, you’ll have to inform the new owner of the debt.

  5. faust1200 says:

    All I have to say is this!

    Pic from ‘naughtyconsumer’ at consumeristforums.com

  6. M3wThr33 says:

    My dad had collections sent to him over 5 cents. He’d laugh each time he got a letter and point at the stamp’s cost.

  7. QTex says:

    I agree with those above who urge caution in advising debtors that the statute of limiations period is 6 years. Unless you’re referring to the credit bureaus’ records, this is not necessarily true, and the limitations periods on suits to collect debt vary greatly from state to state.

    And there are certain circumstances (which can get complicated) where the limitations period may be tolled.

    Not to say James’s wife isn’t free and clear here, she very well may be, but the 7 years and you’re free & clear thing isn’t entirely accurate. And even if she has an SOL defense, if sued on a collection action, she can’t sit back and do nothing. She will have to defend herself–although that’ll be easy enough if she has a nice affirmative defense like SOL.

  8. Ben Popken says:

    Actually, I happen to know that James is in New York, where the statute of limitations on written contracts and open accounts is 6 years (Bankrate).

  9. guymandude says:

    Sending an improper demand for money through the postal service is federal mail fraud. Spend a weekend reading up on “negotiable insrtuments” law.

  10. mac-phisto says:

    pull all three of your reports. check experian & equifax first – they deal more with telecom collections than transunion. you may have an entry from the collector that is dinging your score. you’ll need to do some legwork to get that taken care of.

  11. SkippyKilimanjaro says:

    In a previous life I was part owner of a debt collection agency that purchased debt as opposed to being a contingency agency. We bought the cheap stuff and usually a good portion of what we purchased was out of stat (beyond the statute of limitations). You would be surprised at how many people would pay these off, especially if they were for low dollar amounts. There are a bunch of ways to reset those stat clocks too…if they haven’t already passed the 6 year (or whatever) mark.

    If you are hellbent on not paying off your old debts, then the best thing you can do is not answer the phone and do not engage in any conversations about your debt with an agency.

    Another oddity of our credit system…paying off old and expired debts can actually lower your credit score.

  12. cindel says:

    Umm no it’s not complicated.

    If’s out of SOL, they cannot collect and that’s a myth that repaying off a collection restart the clock.

    Did Consumerist posted something about this a month ago?

    James and his wife needs to check their credit report and if it’s on there; dispute it.

  13. Ben Popken says:

    @SkippyKilimanjaro: Resetting the debt clock is a myth. See: Negative Items Fall Off Credit Report After Seven Year Itc….

    Looks like your collection agency not only fooled consumers, it fooled you.

  14. Sam Glover says:

    You are right, and the “debt clock” does not reset for purposes of your credit report if you do something to acknowledge the debt.

    However, if you make a payment on the debt, it may reset the statute of limitations so that you can be sued on the debt once again.

    Those are two different things, and the rules aren’t the same.

    As others have mentioned, just because the SOL and “debt clock” have run out, doesn’t mean collectors have to stop calling. You still owe the debt, they just can’t do anything about it if you don’t pay.

    As SkippyKilimanjaro pointed out, one reason you might want to pay off the old debt is to help your credit score, since your credit score seems to be based primarily on your willingness to slavishly make payments on your debt for the rest of your life.

    I always tell my clients the best approach is to pay the debt once the debt collector verifies that (1) the debt belongs to the client, and (2) the debt collector actually owns the debt. And get everything in writing and/or make a record of your phone calls (with or without permission, as appropriate in your state).

  15. Okiedog says:

    The city of brotherly love, wherein I reside, has started a campaign to collect old parking ticket debt. People are being called about tickets issued as many as 10 to 15 yrs ago. Is that legit?

  16. Pelagius says:

    I had a similar incident with one of those crappy store credit cards (World Financial Network National Bank – avoid them like the plague!). When I saw the hit on my credit report I disputed it and the collection notices started coming in. It took a year to sort it all out, with help from states’ Attorney Generals’ offices. In any case, disputing the charge seems to have resurrected the SOL. Don’t know what the law is on this, though.

  17. lewissalem says:

    My wife is a bankruptcy attorney and tells me that sometimes these collection agencies will call regardless of the statute of limitations. They will try to scare people into settling the matter over the phone “easily” with a credit card.

    Sadly the unsuspecting victim is unaware that they don’t have to pay.

    BTW, if you are in bankruptcy and you get a call from anybody trying to collect, they are violating the law.

  18. nighttrain2007 says:

    I received a notice from Verizon myself here in NC about two months ago. Problem is I haven’t had a Verizon phone in well over 7 years. I was waiting for another notice from them but never received one. The bill was for $800. Problem is when I closed that account the bill was $0. Had some concern but looked into it as well and they had no standing

  19. kerry says:

    @Okiedog: That’s probably different because, as I understand it, they’re not collecting a debt but rather acting on outstanding warrants.

  20. Amelie says:

    A somewhat related question: I’ve been getting calls from ru skokie several times a day for a month. They stopped and now I get calls from Allied Interstate 2X daily who occasionally leave me a message saying I should call them about a debt. I have no debts. Should I continue to ignore the calls?

  21. Thassodar says:

    Sweet! According to that chart if I can hold off Washington Mutual for 4 years (Texas) then I’m in the clear!

    That is until I need a loan. Or a kidney. Or something else I’m never going to get from a bank.

  22. Triteon says:

    @zouxou: Check out http://courtingdestiny.com/allied-interstate/
    I’ve had these people leave me messages to call back. As I’ve had an ID theft discovered in 4/06 I did, gave them my info and they told me I wasn’t in the system. After a series of calls (21x in 3 days), including truncated v-mails and hang-ups, I contacted the Illinois AG (my home state) and the Minnesota AG (where Allied is located) and filed complaints. The calls stopped.
    (Sorry to hijack this thread!)

  23. Smoking Pope says:

    I had a “debt” brought to my attention for the first time 7 years after it was allegedly incurred. They said it was for $1,000+, from the University of Illinois (which I attended). When I pressed for details, they said they had none. So I told them that unless they could tell me what the debt was for in detail, I’d be ignoring them.

    10 years later (yep, they’re still trying to collect 17 years later), their “one time settlement” offers are down to $90. Debt collectors who have no ammo are very fun to deal with.

    “Sir, I’m calling in reference to a rather large, outstanding debt you have…”

    “Oh, the U of I debt?”

    “Yes”

    “What are you wearing?”

  24. automatic_blue says:

    First off – most debt collectors aren’t scumbags.

    ALL of them are. Bar none. The debt buyer industry wouldn’t exist if consumers were aware of their rights.

    First step – send them a cease and desist letter. Certified mail, or via fax (but save the transmission report). You can find a template at http://www.budhibbs.com

    Second step – silence is golden.

    Third step – Find a NACA attorney in your area. If you get sued on the debt you will have to put some money upfront fight the lawsuit but you will also have the option to counterclaim if the debt is truly past the statute of limitations. Thus you might see your attorneys fees returned, plus some statutory penalties.

    Forth step – If they violate the cease and desist order, find a NACA attorney and go after them under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

    Don’t give debt collectors a cent of your money, much less waste time futzing with them on “their” terms. If you’re requesting validation, negotiating with them or trying to get them to stop calling you, just quit it – you’re still playing the game your way. The only appropriate response to any debt collector should be asking them what the name of the company is, their fax number, and their address.

    Debt buyers DO NOT, and WILL NOT play fair. NEVER pay them a damn cent if you don’t have to.


    Keep in mind that sending a debt collector a cease and desist on a debt that isn’t time-barred by the SOL could mean that the next response you get is a lawsuit over the debt. That’s fine, you should talk to a NACA member attorney about fighting the lawsuit – debt collectors and buyers generally cannot prove up their debts in court.

  25. @automatic_blue: “ALL of them are. Bar none.”

    Hey, screw you. I do debt collection for small businesses.

    Only I just send the letter with the 30 days notice. If they don’t pay or contest, I just file the lien. (I collect for contractors; the usual remedy for non-payment of debts is a lien on the house.) I’m not really interested in chasing them down or spending time on the phone with them. Here’s the debt, do you acknowledge it, great, here’s what you owe. Done and done.

    There are a lot of asshole debt collectors out there (and I defend individuals against them), but there are also a lot of scam artists out there who contract for TONS of work from small contractors and then refuse to pay up. Those businesses have a right to collect that debt or to pursue appropriate legal action. Just because most debt collectors are scamming illegal assholes doesn’t mean debt collection isn’t a legitimate activity WHEN THE DEBTS ARE LEGIT AND THE LAWS ARE FOLLOWED.

  26. gmark2000 says:

    As the previous poster noted, a legitimate debt owing should be paid regardless of who is collecting it. The original person had a Verizon debt as a result of a move. Most people would have mail forwarded after their move or made arrangements. The onus is for the debtor to pay, not to hide from creditors.

  27. Ian S. says:

    A few years ago I was hounded for some small debt I improperly assumed, I had ordered “trial” issues of a magazine and canceled the automatic charge for a full year within the allotted period of time but was apparently billed anyways. I didn’t realize this until I started getting relentlessly hounded by a collection agency a few months later. They started calling me several times per day and sending me ominous sounding letters, I made the mistake of responding and it only fueled their efforts and made them become VERY aggressive, demanding that I pay this debt even after I asserted that there was none and send them copies of the trial program I had tried and told them to call the magazine to verify my cancelation.

    I finally ended up looking into the fair debt collection laws and found that the collection agency was being abusive per the guidelines for debt collection. I send them a letter telling them that I was aware of my rights and felt they were being abusive, and they never called again.

    So know your rights! They rely on you not knowing what they can and can not do to pressure you and collect debts that may or may not be appropriate in the first place.

  28. North of 49 says:

    The one thing that really pisses us off about debt collection agencies are the ones that play hot potato with the debt. Either they have several different frontliners juggling the account so you can’t get a straight answer or when you’ve finally shut one down, another one comes along about the same debt because they’ve bought it from the one who was shut down.

    makes me want to laugh, ya know?

  29. Smoking Pope says:

    I had a collection agency tell my wife that she should pay the $1,000 debt she owed in favor of paying for my chemo treatments. Nice, guys. Wanna come over and kick my dog while you’re at it?

  30. @Smoking Pope: I have a lawyer friend who does collections for a hospital (his firm represents the hospital generally, so they have to do the hospital’s collections work) and he says it is far and away the WORST JOB IN THE UNIVERSE because basically two kinds of people end up in hospital collections: People who’ve had ridiculously expensive and emotionally draining treatments for something like cancer and who’ve spent all their money fighting it, or assholes who decide they don’t want to pay the debt so “hide” their assets by buying mom a brand new Ferrari or something and then declaring bankruptcy.

    He said basically you’re either facing the worlds’ worst scumbags (who are smug about their scumbaggery) or trying to wring money from a broke family that’s already been through hell.

  31. thejanna says:

    I had a sleezy debt collection company call me about some money I supposedly owed an old landlord. When I asked for an itemized list of the damages he was claiming and the amounts, I got a copy of a fax of a handwritten list that looked like it had been scribbled sideways on some notebook paper by a small child. I laughed, and sent them a nice letter about why I didn’t owe the landlord a dime, and how they could go ahead and never contact me again.

  32. Sonnymooks says:

    Part of my job is screening tenants, when I see an unpaid debt, I usually just reject the applicant outright. I’m looking at using a colleection agency for tenants that have been evicted and have found a few good ones. I’m still evaluating them though. Personally, any money the collector gets back for me is like a bonus.

    Either way, pay, don’t pay, someone somewhere does hold it against you, and often you do not even know it.

  33. automatic_blue says:

    @Eyebrows McGee:

    Whatever it takes to help you sleep at night, brah.

  34. amykleinpeter says:

    James’ wife should get her free annual credit report (http://www.annualcreditreport.com/) and make sure that the collector is not reporting this debt as owing. The law is that after a set number of years it should not be reported, but collectors can and do change the date or the account number and still report.

    If the debt is reported, dispute the debt and if it still does not go away, it may be a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

  35. Triteon says:

    @automatic_blue: So…Dude “A” runs up a debt. Dude “A” doesn’t pay off. Dude “B” calls to ask Dude “A” when he’s going to pay, and Dude “B” is the scumbag?
    Wonderful logic, truly insightful.

  36. Smoking Pope says:

    Most people, if they think about it, should realize that anyone doing debt collection is in a difficult spot. You’ve got to pry money from people who don’t have it, or don’t want to part with it.

    The beef with debt collectors is mainly due to those that are needlessly aggressive (see my post above), or just plain mean (again, see my post above). And once that behavior starts getting known, the whole industry gets a black eye. (It strikes me that debt collectors are much like lawyers. You hate them until you need one.)

  37. SkippyKilimanjaro says:

    @Ben Popken: You’re right, I was mistaken. I was taking the re-aging issue from my personal experience with debt, not the practice of the agency I was involved with. I had just remembered reading an article about paying off old debts back when I was applying for mortgage and had to clear some stuff on my CR.

    That being said, an agency can reset the statute of limitations for collections if they can convince the consumer to make a payment on the debt.

    It is a common practice of many debt-buying agencies to to call consumers whose accounts are out of stat and convince them, in that oh-so-special way only collections agents can, to make a payment on the account even if it is only $.25. Once the consumer does this, the account’s collection’s clock is reset and now the agency can pursue all of its normal tactics to get its money just as if the account had never gone out of stat. Including suing the consumer.

    The distinction to be made is between re-aging an account which effects its reportability to the CRAs and re-setting the collections clock which simply allows agencies to pursue collections with all means available to them legally.

  38. CubanCigar says:

    There seems to be far too many people trying to find a way out of paying their debts. Just because a debt is more then 6 years old, does that mean you should not pay it?

    Why borrow money if you cannot afford to pay it back? The UK is in the highest state of debt it has ever been, Bailiffs and Debt Collectors are providing a service by collecting these debts. We are in a “Borrow now, worry later” culture, created by banks and loan companies. If you all have an axe to grind, then it should be with the lenders, not the debt collectors.

    I have read blog after blog of whining debtors all looking for a way to escape their responsibilities and bury their head in the sand, when what they should be doing is making arrangements to clear their arrears.

    The so called advice specialists on this site are not helping by fueling the stereotype that all debt collectors are evil bully boys with no regard for peoples feelings, and then trying to offer hope to these debtors by telling them the debt is too old to collect. Does that really mean they should not pay it back?

    I have worked in Debt Recovery all my life and assure you less than 25% of the debtors on my books are unable to pay. The other 75% just don’t want to.

  39. Azalea says:

    I was contacted by Asset Acceptance LLC 6 months ago regarding an old debt. It was opened in 1983! I told them I was only 13 and he agreed this was a bogus debt and to send him an ID Theft Affidavit. I Did and heard nothing else until 2 days ago. I get a letter from Ocwen Loan Company inregards to the same debt. So I call to dispute this again. This “new” guy said the debt was opened in 1989 and that I wasn’t a minor so I owe it. I then told him that the debt is still 18 years old. He was such a pushy @#$%^&*. I finally told him to stop calling me, it wasn’t my debt, it was fraud and to Look at my states SOL. I can’t believe they would come after an 18 year old debt. Its not even a large amount! May it was a buy one old debt and get one free day! I will write another letter and send another ID Theft affidavit! I hope this doesn’t continue for ever!!!

  40. acouche says:

    I have the same problem, but cannot get Afni to drop it from by credit report. This acct is the result of identity theft and I have the police report. I spoke with a lawyer today and she gave me the number a lawyer to call who does class actions. If anybody is interested please let me know because I fully intend to sue AFNI.

    They violated fair debt collection act by contacting a third party and telling them I had a warrant out for my arrest, told me they were suing me and taking me to court after leaving messages to me and the third party that this was regarding a legal matter. I had a 7 credit rating that is now a 5, had just started an internet store and was trying to get credit but could not. These items had already been deleted from my credit reports.

  41. acouche says:

    My debt was the result of id theft. I cleaned up my credit years ago and offered to pay everybody I owed.

  42. fionamichaels says:

    This is the 2nd time, my husband has been contacted by a colletion agency for a debt over 7 yrs old. The 1st time from Assetcare Agency for an old utilities bill. Once I requested verfication, I never heard from them again. This 2nd time is with Afni Agency, requesting payment on a telephone bill over 7 years ago. As far as he’s concerned, he paid all his bills, however he was living with a roommate who stole from him and used his name on alot of his own bills. However, it’s not fair for someone to slam you with a bill after 7 years when you don’t have the records to prove whether you have paid it or not. Obviously, thats why there is a SOL. It’s easy for them to provide you with an old bill, you just can’t remember or prove whether you paid it or not.

  43. Sheyanne says:

    Hi, anyone a lawer out there? I got a bill a few weeks ago from Asset Acceptance (collection agency) This was our first time ever recieving anything from them before. It was regarding a bill of my husbands from 20 years ago. Yes TWENTY years ago. I’ve never gotten anything from a collections agency before so I was very concerned, I called them right away. After talking them down to $650.00 I set the transaction up for them to take the money from my checking account electronically with my check number. Then I called my husband to let him know. He informed me that he remembers that bill, and he specifically remembers paying it, and has never heard anything about it being in collections. He was so shocked. So I called them back and had them cancell the transaction. Which they say they did. I also put a stop payment on that check number. But my bank says that if they send it through with out a check number it will go through and not be blocked. So I’m a little worried. A few days later they called and I explained to them how the bill was already paid, back in 1987!!!These guys are getting meaner and meaner with every phone call, and I wouldnt put it past them to use my checking account number to take the money anyway seeing how they have all the information they need to do so. Does anyone think thats possible or should I just relax? I know they cancelled the transaction. But how do I know they deleted my account number along with it. For all I know they still have the number and may use it one of these days when they get mad enough????.

    Any thoughts?

    Thanks
    Darlene

  44. Anonymous says:

    I contacted Cox Cable recently about getting cable setup in my home. To my surprised, cox cable said that I owed a debt of $400 that has been dated since 1995. I don’t ever remembered having cable in my home back then. This debt is 13 years old and they are trying to collect this money. I asked that they provide me with paper work with my signature and dates but I was told by a collection supervisor that they cannot provide that information to me, because it was years ago, and they might not have the paper work. I asked if they could provide to me a copy of the work order, the work order that should have been given to me to sign by the cable man when he came out to install the cable, and I received no answer from the collection supervisor. What should I do next?