Not every collections claim is legitimate. Debts can become too old to be collectible. Mix-ups happen and people get called about debts that aren’t theirs. At other times, the debt was real, but paid off, and somehow ended up in collections by mistake. All of these things happen.
To protect you from these kinds of mistakes — and from fake debt collectors claiming you owe debts that just aren’t real — the FDCPA has a provision that requires debt collection companies to validate the debt.
You have to ASK the debt collector — in writing — to prove the debt is legit. Obviously, they’re not going to volunteer that fact. Telling a debt collector to “prove it” is called requesting validation.
A good debt validation letter looks like this:
RE: Account XXXXXXXXXX
This is not a refusal to pay. I was contacted by your company regarding the above account. I don’t immediately recognize this account and suspect there has been an error. Please provide me with the following information:
- How much you say I owe and why.
- The name and contact information of the original creditor.
- A dated invoice showing the last payment on this account.
Please refrain from collections activity for the next 30 days as I consult my records. I look forward to your prompt reply.
Now, of course, you may not actually get a reply…
A commonly cited statistic is that only about half of all debt buyers respond to validation requests. Debt collectors are technically required by the FDCPA to respond, but if they don’t it’s usually for one of a few reasons:
- They don’t think that you’re going to pay them.
- They don’t have enough information to verify the debt.
- There is something fishy about their claim on the debt, and they know it.
So sometimes it’s better for them to keep their mouth shut and walk away.
Some things to remember…
Always send letters to collection agencies via certified mail. If they think they can get away with it, often they’ll “lose” or “forget” or “misplace” your request. Don’t let them get away with such childish misbehavior. If you send them a letter that is certified, they’ll have a hard time convincing anybody they didn’t get what you sent.
The response you get back may well be incomplete. This is a favorite tactic of less ethical debt collection companies. If you request three bits of information, they’ll send you two, knowing damned well you need the third in order to know what’s really going on.
Lastly, don’t let collection agencies snow you. Requesting validation on a debt is a standard part of debt collection, and it has been since the late 1970’s. Sometimes debt collectors like to play dumb and respond with “What’s a validation request?” when they know exactly what you’re after.
You can do it!