One day your phone rings and a voice on the other end demands payment of a debt that was charged off by the lender more than ten years ago. You try to explain that, but the debt collector becomes verbally abusive and threatens you with legal action and wage garnishment if you don't pay right now. He insists that you give him an immediate payment over the phone. Whatever you do, don't fall for it! He's trying to collect a zombie debt that you're no longer legally obligated to pay. Firms buy old debts that are past the legal statute of limitations for collection, then try to pressure consumers into paying these zombie debts with threats that are often downright false. If a zombie debt collector is bothering you, you can use the steps in this article to defeat him.
Things You'll Need
- Knowledge of your state's statute of limitations
- Knowledge of Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
Find out what the statute of limitations is in your state for old debts. It varies by state, and sometimes there are different time limits for different types of debt in the same state. A zombie debt collector will try to bluff you. Firms that purchase old, unenforceable debt count on a consumer's ignorance of the law and fear of being sued in order to collect. If you are well informed, there is no need to be fearful. When the zombie debt collector calls, tell him outright that you know the debt is past the statute of limitations and that they have no legal grounds to collect it. If he persists, give him your lawyer's telephone number and tell him that all future contacts should go through your attorney.
Be aware of your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. It provides many important protections for consumers. If a zombie debt collection has given out any information about you to a third party (for example, calling your employer or co-workers and telling them that you refuse to pay a debt), made false threats to sue you, threatened to have you arrested and jailed, or made any other untrue threats, they have violated the law. They are also prohibited from calling you repeatedly in order to harass or annoy you.If a zombie debt collector is violating the law in her phone calls to you. let her know that you are going to tape record the conversation. Many states require you to tell the other party that you're taping a call, so let the zombie debt collector know and repeat it when you start the tape. Don't be surprised if she simply hangs up, as unscrupulous agencies won't want to provide you with proof of their law-breaking.
Do not give out any information to a zombie debt collector, and do not verify any information they might have. They may put pressure on you, but remember that they are calling you about a debt that you no longer legally owe. Therefore you are under no obligation to give them any information or to assist them in any way with verification. Your best bet is to simply say "I'm not going to talk to you" and hang up. That eliminates the risk of giving or verifying information that the zombie debt collector could use against you in any way.
Warn other family members not to give out any information if a zombie debt collector calls. Often these debt collectors will search out phone numbers for family members, or even neighbors, and call claiming that they have to get in touch with you or get information about an urgent legal matter. They rely on the sense of urgency to trick people into giving out information. Make sure your family knows that they should simply hang up if they receive such calls.
Do not let yourself be pressured into making a partial payment or even into agreeing to a payment plan in order to get the zombie debt collector off the phone. In most states, the statute of limitations date is based on the account's date of last activity. However, some states will restart the clock if you agree to some type of payment plan or give the zombie debt collector a payment. Depending on your state's laws, you could even cause yourself trouble by acknowledging that the debt is yours. When a zombie debt collector starts calling, hang up before telling her anything and get familiar with your state's laws so you know how to respond when she calls back.
Tips & Warnings
- When an unfamiliar phone number shows up on your caller ID and you think it may be a zombie debt collector, look up their telephone number on the Internet before answering. If you answer the call and the person makes you uncomfortable with personal questions and demands, don't give them any information. Hang up and look up the number. Zombie debt collectors are often reluctant to give out specific information about their company and its address so you can't send a written cease-and-desist. Often you can find this information online based on the number they call from or the number they leave as a call-back.
- Even though the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits zombie debt collectors from suing you for a debt that is part the statute of limitations, it can still happen. If a zombie debt collector threatens to sue you, let them know that you are familiar with the Act and that you know they are prohibited by law from doing so. If you're dealing with an unscrupulous firm that disregards the law and sues you anyway, you will need to show up in court to argue that the statute of limitations has run out. If you don't go to court, the zombie debt collector can win a judgment against you.
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