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What To Do About a Debt You Don't Recognize

Jackie here. If a debt collector comes calling about a debt you don’t recognize, your first instinct might be to assume you’re a victim of ID theft. While this is a possibility, much of the time you’re dealing with something else. It is possible the debt belongs to someone else entirely or that the phone call is part of a debt collection scam. Here are some helpful tips from the FTC to help you sort out the situation.
Get Information
If a debt collector calls about a debt you don’t remember, your first step should be to gather information. Don’t make the mistake of paying out of fear or worry. You do have time to verify the debt before you make a payment.
Here are a few things to ask for during that initial call:
Information About the Collector– Legitimate debt collectors will provide you with basic information like the name of the debt collector and the company’s name, address, and phone number. If they won’t provide this information, assume the call is a scam.
Information About the Debt– Make sure the debt is in your name and not someone else’s. Find out the amount of the debt, the original creditor, etc.
Validation Notice– Ask for a validation notice, or a written notice stating the original creditor, how much you owe, and what to do if you decide to dispute the debt. If the collector doesn’t already have your address, or has an incorrect one that you’ve never used, don’t provide the correct information.
If the collector wants to verify your personal information don’t correct any errors in their information (like the wrong name, address, etc.) since this can make disputing an illegitimate debt more difficult later. Don’t give out any personal information that the debt collector doesn’t already have.
If the debt is legitimate, the collector should send you a validation notice upon request. Once you receive this, start doing a bit of detective work to verify your debt. Here are a few things to check:
Check Out the Debt Collector– Verify the debt collection company with a quick internet search. Look for any signs of scams.
Verify Information with the Original Creditor– Contact the original creditor and see if they can offer any additional information about the debt. They can often help you determine if the debt is real and if the debt collector is authorized to collect on their behalf.
Check Your Credit– Does the debt appear on your credit report? Pull a credit report and see if the debt is there.
With the information you’ve gathered you should be able to determine if the debt is legitimate or not. Then, proceed accordingly. If you find yourself in this situation, you’ll find some additional tips from the FTC.

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