If you've ever watched Night of the Living Dead or 28 Days Later, then you know about zombies. They're nearly impossible to kill and continue to haunt you despite your best efforts to stop them. Shooting them doesn't work, tearing off their limbs doesn't work, blowing them up doesn't work. Zombie debt is sort of like that.
Zombie debt refers to old debt purchased by debt collectors hoping to intimidate consumers into paying the debt. If you're contacted by a collection agency about an old debt, don't give in immediately. You have several tools you can use to fight back.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, FDCPA, gives you the right to verify debts from debt collectors. Within 35 days of being contacted by a debt collector, you can send a letter requesting the collector validate your debt. This validation needs to include some documents from the original creditor proving you owe the debt, the amount you owe is valid, and the agency is allowed to collect the debt from you. Your request for validation must be made in writing and should be sent via certified mail with return receipt requested.
The statute of limitations on debt is the maximum time the debt collector can use the courts to collect a debt from you. Even though the statute of limitations has expired, the collector may still call you or may even file suit against you in court. To stop calls, send a cease and desist letter to the collector. If the collector files suit against you, attend the hearing prepared with evidence that the statute of limitations on the debt has indeed expired.
You have the right to request the collector to stop contacting you. By sending a written cease and desist letter to the debt collector you can have the collector stop communicating with you about the debt altogether, regardless of the legitimacy of the debt. Such a letter should be sent via certified mail with return receipt requested. If the collector violates this request, you can take legal action.
If you’ve requested validation of the debt and the debt is still in the 30 day validation period or the collector has failed to respond to the request altogether, the collector cannot legally add the debt to your credit report. In either of these cases, you can have the account deleted from your credit by submitting a credit report dispute. The case for the dispute is stronger if you include a copy of your debt validation letter along with the certified and return receipt requests.