Not every debt collector who contacts you is attempting to collect a legitimate debt. Sometimes debt collectors scam consumers into paying debts that aren't real or perhaps have already been paid.
The Right to Request Validation
Federal law gives you the right to request a debt collector provide proof that you owe a debt. It's the best way to ensure that you're not paying a debt you don't owe or a debt that the collector isn't authorized to collect on.
The debt validation request is time sensitive. You must make your request in writing within 30 days of the debt collector's initial contact with you. If you wait more than 30 days, your validation request may not be covered under debt collection law.
Your rights are not protected if you make your debt validation request over the phone. Don't worry if you don't know what to say in a letter; there's one below that you can use as a template.
Once you send a request for proof, also called a debt validation letter, the collector must stop collection efforts until they've sent sufficient proof of the debt. It means they cannot call you, send you letters, or list the debt on your credit report.
How to Write a Debt Validation Letter
In the letter, reference the date of the initial contact and the method, for example, "a phone call received from your agency on April 25, 2019." You also need to provide a statement that you're requesting validation of the debt. Do not admit to owing the debt or make any reference to payment.
Send your letter via certified mail, so you have proof of when the letter was mailed and received.
Re: Account Number
This letter is sent in response to [a letter/phone call] I received on [date you received the letter/call]. I am requesting that you provide verification of this debt.
Please send the following information:
The name and address of the original creditor, the account number, and the amount owed.
Verification that there is a valid basis for claiming I am required to pay the current amount owed.
Details about the age and amount of the debt including a copy of the last billing statement from the original creditor; a detailed explanation of any interest added or payments made since the last billing statement and the legal authorization for this interest; the date the original creditor claims this debt became delinquent.
Please also note whether this debt is within the statute of limitations and how that was determined.
Please also forward details about your authority to collect this debt: whether you are licensed in my state and if so provide the date of the license, name on the license, license number, and the license number, and the name, address and telephone number of the state agency issuing the license. If you are contacting me from outside my state, provide the licensing information from your state as well.
The Debt Collector's Response to Your Validation Request
If the debt collector does not send you proof of the debt, any future collection efforts are in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Note that your account may be assigned or sold to a new debt collection agency. In that case, your validation request from the previous collection agency does not apply.
Otherwise, if the debt collector does send proof, determine whether or not the debt is within the statute of limitations, and then decide how you want to proceed. Paying the debt, takes care of the obligation for good. You may be able to negotiate a settlement for less than the full balance due. Finally, if the debt is outside the statute of limitations for your state, you can ignore the debt if you have no interest in paying it, but keep in mind that collection efforts can continue indefinitely.