Why You Should Never Pay a Debt Collector Without Validating
Have you gotten one of those lovely "pay us NOW" debt collection letters in the mail or a barrage of phone calls? Before you crack open your checkbook or negotiate any kind of payment, you might want to think about firing back what's commonly known as a debt validation letter first.
I'm not talking about just trying to play technical tricks or games with collectors (although that's what most of them do to the public). Even if you really do owe the money to an original creditor, disputing a collection letter to force validation is just plain old common sense.
If you borrowed money from a friend or relative, and all of a sudden one day a complete stranger shows up at the door asking for the money and wants you to write a check directly to them, would you do it? Of course not! At least not without first checking with the person you borrowed the money from and having some sort of proof that the stranger has proper authorization to collect.
This is exactly what debt collection agencies (including law firms) are doing when they first start calling and/or send you a debt collection letter demanding payment. They're just like a complete stranger knocking at your door trying to collect a debt for someone else.
Even though people pay up by the truckload to debt collectors every day out of fear, their bark is bigger than their bite, and it's ridiculous to just assume they have any legal rights or ownership at all with your alleged debt.
With identity theft rampant and no information being safe these days, it's never a good idea to blindly pay a stranger trying to collect a debt. Trusting a third party becomes especially questionable given the way original creditors and debt collectors sell or transfer databases of delinquent debt information.
Even if you do owe the debt to the original creditor, here's just a few things to think about:
- How do you know the debt collector has been legally assigned the debt?
- How do you know if the debt collector has legally purchased the debt?
- How do you know the debt collector didn't illegally purchase information about your debt from a database?
- How do you know there wasn't some mistake and your information got transferred to more than one debt collector?
- How do you know your information didn't get transferred to a debt collector that isn't even authorized to collect?
- How do you know a database of delinquent accounts wasn't hacked and sold to the collector?
Under the digital conditions we live in, everything can be faked and manipulated, and is done so routinely whether it's intentional or not.
So What Exactly is Debt Validation?
Validation is essentially your right under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) to say to a debt collector..."I don't believe you yet. Prove it!"
When an initial debt collection letter is sent, you have 30 days to dispute the debt in writing before the collector can assume it's valid. You can still dispute the debt after 30 days, but it's generally more productive if done within that timeframe.
Disputing vs. Asking for Validation - What's the Difference?
Now, I realize the terminology between a dispute and validation can get a little confusing for people. But looking at the language of the FDCPA, it becomes much more clear as to what to do.
It reads as follows:
FDCPA Section 809. Validation of debts [15 USC 1692g]
(b) If the consumer notifies the debt collector in writing within the thirty-day period described in subsection (a) that the debt, or any portion thereof, is disputed, or that the consumer requests the name and address of the original creditor, the debt collector shall cease collection of the debt, or any disputed portion thereof, until the debt collector obtains verification of the debt or any copy of a judgment, or the name and address of the original creditor, and a copy of such verification or judgment, or name and address of the original creditor, is mailed to the consumer by the debt collector.
So here's the important point. In your response letter to the debt collector, it's technically more correct to say you DISPUTE the alleged debt, not just ask for validation.
By disputing, you're not necessarily saying you don't owe anything to the original creditor. This is where people tend to freeze up and suddenly feel like they're lying. That's not the case. Again, disputing a debt is merely the act of standing up and telling the collector to prove they have the legal right to collect the debt.
Many times they can't prove it because of sloppy documentation or simply don't care to because there's easier fish to fry out there. Debt collectors are typically counting on easy collections from people who are uninformed, scared, or both.
What Constitutes Proper Validation?
There may be some varying legal interpretations on this and I'm not an attorney, but fundamentally a debt collector should at least provide you with:
- A copy of a legal contract between them and the original creditor showing they're allowed to collect by either having been assigned or having purchased the debt. This is the core element of validation. A computer printout of your info or anything similar doesn't cut it for proof.
- They should also provide you with the original contract between you and the original creditor. In some cases though, account statements are legally sufficient for this requirement.
- An accounting of the debt via account statements at the very least.
Note: If you're being sued and have a competent attorney defending you, debt collectors can often be held to proving much more, including such things as producing employees who had specific or intimate knowledge of the debt. That's tough for them to do.
What Responsibilities Does the Collector Have When You Dispute?
Per the FDCPA, a debt collector must cease all collection and contact activity, and may not report anything to the credit bureaus until they've obtained and provided proper validation.
If they fail in that regard and continue to collect or report you to a credit bureau, they've opened the door for you to sue them for up to $1000 per action under the FDCPA, FCRA, or both.
Writing Your Dispute Letter
It's not as complicated as you think. Despite all the lengthy template validation letters floating around out there citing all kinds of legaleze, that's not necessary to trigger the validation requirement.
A letter containing just one sentence in the body disputing the alleged debt will set things into motion and trigger the FDCPA. A statement as simple as something like:
"Per your debt collection letter sent to me dated xx/xx/xx, let this be your notice that I dispute this alleged debt in full."
That's it! You've done your job in triggering FDCPA section 809 which now puts the burden of validation proof on them.
You can cite all the legal jargon you want and have fun with that, but ultimately it doesn't matter much as long as you just say you dispute it. It's not your responsibility to educate debt collectors on federal debt collection laws. That's going to be their problem if they're ignorant and don't follow it.
Finally, when you send it...send it either certified mail or some other method that can be verified and traced.
Watch To See Why Blindly Paying a Debt Collector Without Validation is a Bad Idea
Credit and Debt Resources
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- National Association of Consumer Advocates – Consumer Protection Advocates and Attorneys
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