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Is Zombie Debt Coming Back to Haunt You? Tips On How To Deal With Debt Scavengers
Just when you thought it was safe… here comes zombie debt!!!
A client recently called me in a panic. He said he was just called by a lawyer from a debt collection agency and they said they would file a lawsuit against him in 30 days if he didn’t pay $3,000 he owed on an old credit card. However, they were willing to negotiate a settlement if he could make the full payment by the end of the week. How nice of them.
They had quite a story. They said that if he did not settle the debt, it would be transferred to the original creditor who would file a lawsuit. And that my friend would be subject to additional interest and penalties and attorneys and that they could garnish his wages. scary
“What should I do?!?!?! Can they really garnish my wages?!?!?! How much do I have to settle for?!?!?! Will you negotiate this for me?!?!?!” he said.
I told him to take a breath and I asked him a few questions. I could tell that the last payment he made was in July 2006. That’s a pretty old debt. Sounds like zombie debt to me.
Who are zombie debt collectors?
It is important to know who these companies are and how they operate. Generally, zombie debt collectors (also known as debt collectors or junk collectors) buy very old debt for pennies on the dollar from the original creditors who have long since charged this debt. So any money they collect is worth it to them. By many definitions, the statute of limitations (ie the time in which a lawsuit MUST be filed) has already expired. If the statute of limitations has expired, the debt collectors have no legal right to any money from the consumer. So it is called zombie debt because it is a “dead” debt that is brought back to life by these debtors. Unfortunately, collecting zombie debts is big business because many consumers don’t know their rights and want to protect their credit.
How do zombie debt collectors try to collect?
After buying this debt, these companies try to collect any money they can by choosing consumers they believe are most likely to pay them any money. So how do they do it? First they scare you. They will make you believe they are lawyers, even if they are not, they will threaten to file a lawsuit, ruin your credit, seize your assets, garnish your wages and put a lien on your house. Then, they’ll act like they’re doing you a favor by accepting far less than they claim you owe, they’ll make annoying phone calls, they’ll give you short time frames to pressure you into making a decision before you can consult a lawyer or do. any investigation, and they will lie. Sound dirty? It is.
The desire to solve the problem and avoid further headaches is so strong that many consumers end up settling the debt even after they know its zombie debt. Just the threat of a lawsuit or wage garnishment is enough to force consumers to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars to settle the debt and protect their credit. This is what these debt junkies are counting on.
What do you do if you get a call from a zombie debt collector?
Above all, don’t panic! Take the time to research and understand your rights. Read on for tips and guidelines to follow when dealing with these “debts.”
Do not assume they are who they say they are and do not verify ANY information!
Who are these people? How do you know this is legit? Have you done business with them? How do you know it’s not a scam? How are you not the result of identity theft? Ask them who they are and contact information. And talk to them like you have no idea who they are or what they’re talking about. They will try to get you to verify information. Do not give them any information and do not confirm anything! And I mean SOMETHING! Remember, you don’t know who they are and they are calling about a debt that you know is owed longer. (See the “Don’t acknowledge the debt!” section below.) Just get information from them, stop, and then do your research first. They will try to use any information you give them against you. Warn other family members or roommates not to give them information.
Don’t assume you owe this debt (or that they can prove it).
Just because a zombie debt collector calls you doesn’t mean you owe the debt. Don’t believe for a second that the original bank or debt collector has all their documents and evidence together. Besides being barred by the statute of limitations, the debt could have been discharged in bankruptcy, or settled by agreement with the bank.
Remember the Robo-Signing scandal where bank employees signed affidavits without verifying any of the information in them? Financial institutions, including zombie debt collectors, can be careless and may never verify any of the information they have. After all, their goal is to get you to pay them anything and they have no intention of ever filing a lawsuit. They trust that consumers do not know their rights and hope that no one calls them.
Can they prove they bought this debt? They must prove that you legally owe this debt, that they legally purchased this debt, and that the debt was legally transferred to them. They would need to prove this in court if they were to file a lawsuit, unless you ignore it and they get a default judgment against you.
Don’t assume they have the right person.
In most cases, debt collectors do not have current contact information. They have any information in the account from years ago. They will then try to track down the right person. As you can guess, they often don’t have the right person and are just fishing around. So even if you had a credit card from the bank they’re asking about, it doesn’t mean they have the right person. This is another reason not to talk to them or give them any information.
Determine if the statute of limitations has expired.
I called the debt collector on my friend’s behalf and they tried to tell me that the statute of limitations runs from the date of the last activity on the account, which was when the original creditor charged the debt. Statutes of limitation are laws that set the time within which a lawsuit must be filed, after which no lawsuit can be filed regardless of whether a cause of action existed. In other words, if you do not file a lawsuit within the time specified by the statute of limitations, the court will not allow you to bring an action.
First of all, this makes no sense, because the creditor would be checking the statute of limitations while waiting to charge the debt. Could you imagine a creditor filing a lawsuit 40 years later because they still haven’t decided to default on the debt? In California, the statute of limitations begins on the date of default, which is the date the consumer should have made a payment, but did not. This puts the creditor on notice that it must take action to collect the debt. The limitation is two years if there is no written agreement between you and your creditor. If there is a written agreement, the limitation is four years. If the creditor obtained a judgment against you in court, the statute of limitations is 10 years, but can be renewed. Statutes of limitations vary widely from state to state, so you should check the laws in your state to determine the time limits applicable to your situation.
Although it is a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to file a lawsuit after the statute of limitations, the most sleazy companies file lawsuits anyway in the hope that the consumer does not respond to the lawsuit and the collection agency closes. obtain a default judgment against the consumer. This will then turn the previously uncollectible debt into a highly collectible debt. It’s also important to note that although the statute of limitations prevents debt collectors from filing a lawsuit, they still have the right to try to collect the debt. However, many of their tactics violate a law called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
If you have determined that the statute of limitations has expired, then this is clearly zombie debt. If you have determined that the statute of limitations has not expired, then this article is not for you. In either case, you may want to contact an attorney for further consultation and legal advice. Many lawyers offer a free consultation, so you should take advantage. Look for a lawyer who practices consumer rights, consumer debt, debts, debt compensation, fair debt collection, or even bankruptcy in your area.
Do not make any payment!
A favorite trick of debt collectors is to get you to agree to a payment plan and immediately make a “good faith” payment of $10 or some other small amount. They will try to get your bank account number and routing information. This is a mistake! Do not make any payment, no matter how small the amount or whatever they promise you. Do not negotiate. Don’t make any deals. Don’t agree to a payment plan. I think you get the idea.
Doing so will revive the debt, which is called acknowledging or reaffirming the debt. Even admitting you owe the debt could be used against you. Often, it can be difficult for most people to say “no”. Most people don’t want to be “dead beats”. So it is important to remember that you are not dead because you do not owe this debt.
So I recalled these debt corpses. They were very nice on the phone. I asked them for specific information about the debt they were calling about. Without admitting anything, I asked about the last transactions and transaction dates on the account they claim my client owes. Not surprisingly, the statute of limitations has expired. I advised them that it is a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to file a lawsuit or even threaten to file a lawsuit after the statute of limitations has expired.
She said that the statute of limitations runs from the date of the last activity on the account and then the debt was sold to the debt collection agency! They have some nerve!
I asked them to send me a letter verifying this debt and stating when the statute of limitations ends. She said “sure” and took my address and phone number. We haven’t heard from her since, and probably never will.
If they think collecting from you is more trouble than it’s worth, they’ll move on to the next poor victim who doesn’t know their rights.
A Final Thought
I have heard banks talk about a moral obligation to pay the debt. Maybe to the original creditor (and that’s a strong maybe), but certainly not to the bad debt buyer. If the original creditor or debt collection agency owed you money, but the statute of limitations was in effect, do you think they would pay you? This is not about morality, it is about law.
As consumers, the best thing to do is to know your rights. Please feel free to share this article with your family and friends so they can protect themselves and eventually get rid of these zombie debts.
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