In early 2012, I relocated to Connecticut from Michigan for personal and professional reasons. When I first arrived with little more than the clothes on my back, my smartphone, and a laptop, I found something unexpected waiting for me in my new apartment’s mailbox: a collection letter from Afni.
This was strange for quite a few reasons:
- I had just moved into my apparent a few days previous to receiving the notice.
- I hadn’t yet changed my address on my drivers license, registered to vote, or even given my employer my new address.
- Hell, the pack-rat container with all of my stuff in it hadn’t even come yet. So really – how did they find me?
- Lastly, it was for a T-Mobile bill I didn’t recognize off the top of my head.
Obviously, something my landlord did as part of the screening or move-in process for new tenants updated a public record which Afni kept an eye on.
I kept the letter intending to follow-up. But, as you can imagine, with the move ongoing it was an easy thing to forget about — and that’s exactly what I did.
Over time I began to rebuild my credit slowly, one delinquent account at a time. Two years later, I received a third letter from Afni. This time, they caught me at a good time: I had recently pulled a copy of my credit report.
The collections letter said, in relevant part — minus some details for privacy:
Afni, Inc Account #: [redacted]
Original Creditor: T-Mobile
Original Creditor Account #: [redacted]
Pay only HALF YOUR BALANCE to settle your account
We are making another attempt to contact you regarding your overdue account. In an effort to resolve this matter, we will accept $78.33, half the current balance. Once paid, our records will reflect the status of your account with Afni, Inc. as closed and settled.
[blah, blah, blah…]
All conversations with Afni may be recorded.
This is an attempt to collect a debt. Any information obtained will be used for that purpose. This letter is from a debt collector.
Right away, a few things jumped out at me as odd. First, the origination date of the “debt” did not appear on the collection notice. This would later turn out to be key. No account from Afni appeared on my credit reports as delinquent or otherwise.
The last time I had a T-Mobile account was something like 10 years prior to the events I’m describing. This left three distinct possibilities. One, Afni might be trying to collect on an extremely old account that is well past the statute of limitations. Two, I might be dealing with an identity thief who opened a T-Mobile account in my name and the delinquency just hadn’t hit my reports for some reason. Or Three, there was a chance that I was dealing with a scam letter that had nothing to do with reality.
Either of these three scenarios was possible, but the first seemed the most likely. I had some free time that day, so I decided to do some digging.
Is Afni a Scam?
Now, you can Google for “[collection agency name] scam” and find hits for pretty much every major player in the collections industry. So I approached the results returned by Google with a measure of skepticism. After a while, I came away with three noteworthy hits.
UPDATED:SCAM ALERT! Afni Tries to collect debt I don’t owe Afni unwisely sent a debt collection notice to a writer at the Daily Kos about a Verizon wireless bill the author apparently has no knowledge of.
[updated w/poll] Afni Scam Part II: Afni Strikes Back! This is an update to the previous post by the same author who stumbles a bit as he goes through the validation process.
I noticed several entries at Ripoff Report about Afni as well. While I was certainly skeptical of some of the claims made on Ripoff Report, it was pretty clear that Afni did a lot of business in the delinquent cell phone bill space and that they had a tendency to try to collect on truly ancient debt well past the statute of limitations.
The Very Definition of a Zombie Debt
Just so I’m clear, let me explain what I mean when I say zombie debt. The handy resource that is Investopedia defines zombie debt as:
A type of bad debt that is so old a person may have forgotten he or she owed it in the first place. The debt has likely been given up on by the company to which it was owed. Zombie debt can haunt a debtor if a debt collector buys the debt for a low price from the company in attempt to recover the owed funds.
So, What Did I Do About It?
It seemed pretty clear at this point that I was dealing with a zombie debt collector and not an identity theft situation. I detail the action steps I took to confirm the facts and ultimately tell Afni to go pound sand in separate posts.