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I’m being hassled unfairly by bill collectors

Recently, I received a phone call from a bill collector who claimed I owe $500 for a purchase made on Home Shopping Network (HSN) eight years earlier. The debt-collection company, which had bought the debt from HSN, demanded that I pay the full amount. I disputed the debt because I had already paid it off.  This isn’t the first time I have been harassed about the alleged debt—in 2011, a different bill collector contacted me with a similar claim. Neither bill collector can provide me with any details about what I had purchased or about payments I made. When I contacted HSN to get to the bottom of the matter, I was told the records about my purchase were no longer available.  What can I do if I get sued?  Jenny, Jasper

Jenny, your problem happens all too often. The original account was probably sold as a “bad debt” with a large group of other accounts with open balances.  Often, accounts are not really past due but instead are sold due to a clerical mistake.  Buying and selling debt has become a big, lucrative business and debt collectors are filing an increasing number of lawsuits against consumers even though many times they do not have proof to back up their claims. To make matters worse, consumers often do not receive timely notice that they have been sued and may no longer have records to show whether the debt is owed or the amount claimed is correct because it is so old.

As the debt-buying industry has grown, so have debt-collection abuses. Last year, the FTC reported complaints about debt collectors more than against any other industry. Buying and selling debt has become a big, lucrative business. Debt buyers typically purchase portfolios of debt for only 4 cents on the dollar, on average, and then collect on those debts for the full face value, netting them a huge profit.

States should establish common sense laws to protect consumers by:

  • Establishing a sell-by date for all debt that makes it illegal to sell or attempt to collect a debt more than seven years old, which is too old to be reported under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
  • Requiring debt collectors, when they sue, to submit basic information about the debt, including the name of the original creditor and an itemized record of the principal, interest, fees, and charges added to the debt.

Luckily, for Walker County residents, our courts require debt collectors to “prove” its case with the proper documentation and a witness to authenticate the original debt.  Because the “debt buyer” usually cannot produce the original documents and a witness, the judge dismisses most of these cases without the necessity a trial.  Please make sure you contact an attorney if you are sued for an old debt.

Nelson, Bryan and Jones represents clients in the following areas: Social Security Disability, Motor Vehicle Accidents, Wrongful Death Cases, Personal Injury Actions, Defective Products, Insurance Disputes and Bad Faith, Fire Loss cases, Trucking Accidents, Worker’s Compensation, Drug Recalls, Employment Law and Property Damage Claims.


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