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Dealing with Debt Collectors

Authored By: Alaska Legal Services - Anchorage LSC Funded

Dealing with Debt Collectors: Disputing and Verifying a Debt

Disputing and Verifying a Debt

Authored By: Alaska Legal Services - Anchorage LSC Funded
Contents
Dealing with Debt Collectors Related Resources Dealing with Debt Collectors Related Resources

Dealing with Debt Collectors

Dealing with Debt Collectors

Under the FDCPA, your right to dispute the debt has three separate parts:

  • Right to notice of the debt
  • Right to dispute the debt
  • Right to verify the debt

Right to Notice

  • The debt collector must send you a written validation notice within 5 days of first contacting you telling you:
  • the amount of the debt;
  • the name of the creditor the debt is owed to;
  • a statement that the debtor has a right to dispute the debt within 30 days after receiving the notice; a statement that if the debtor does dispute the debt, the debt collector will obtain verification of the debt; and finally,
  • a statement that a debt collector will provide the name and address of the original creditor if requested in writing.

Right to Dispute

Why trust the word of the debt collector about who you owe and how much you owe? The debt collector might not be honest, or might just have bad information.  They might not even be a legitimate debt collector and could be running a scam.  Also, it’s possible your debt is beyond the statute of limitations, and the time limit for filing a lawsuit has passed. A statute of limitations is a time limit for filing a lawsuit – how long after an event someone is allowed to sue you.  In Alaska, the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit for breech of contract is three years. But there are collection suits that are not for breech of contract. It is also possible that other states’ statute of limitations laws might apply to your debt.  In Alaska, the “timer” on the statute of limitations generally runs from the last time you made any sort of payment towards a debt. For example, if a debt collector says you owe money from a debt that is ten years old, that is likely past whatever statute of limitations applies, but if you paid the debt collector five dollars on that debt last year, the statute of limitations is calculated from the day you paid.

The dispute and verification process is designed to provide you with accurate information about your debt, so that you have the information you need to decide what to do.  There is no reason to give money to a debt collector who can’t or won’t provide you with this information.  This is why even if you think you might owe the money, you probably want to dispute the debt.

Disputing and Verifying the Debt

If you want to dispute the debt, put your dispute in writing, and send it within 30 days of first receiving the “validation notice” described above.  If you do not act within that period, the debt collector does not have to provide verification, and more important, the debt collector may “assume” the debt is valid. 

Sometimes people wonder if they can dispute the debt over the phone instead of writing a letter.  You can, but the debt collector will be allowed to continue debt collection activities and will not have to verify the debt.  If you want to assert your right to verify the debt, you must send a letter.

If you do send your dispute letter to the debt collector within 30 days, collection activities, including contacting you, must stop until the debt collector obtains verification of the debt.  But a collector can begin contacting you again after sending the debt verification.  If the debt collector never sent you the initial notice, you still have dispute and verification rights.  You can dispute the debt, and the 30 day time limit will not apply.

The Dispute and Verify Letter

A sample dispute letter is provided below, under “Related Resources.” Fill in the blanks with the information about you, the debt collector and the debt.

In the letter, you can ask the debt collector why it thinks you owe the debt, and you can ask for details about the debt collector’s authority to collect the debt.  You can ask for a complete accounting of the original debt, including information about payments made and interest and fees charged and/or waived.  If you are disputing the debt on grounds of identity theft or mistaken identify, verification should include a copy of the original signed contract or note.

You can also use the debt verification letter to request that the debt collector have no further contact with you other than to send you the verification you requested, tell you when collection efforts stop, or tell you when they are filing suit. See the section in this classroom on “Stopping All Collection Contacts” for more information about stopping contact.

Finally, while debt collectors can report your debt to a credit reporting agency, they have a legal duty to report it accurately.  If you are disputing the debt, the debt collector cannot report it to a credit reporting agency unless and until it verifies the debt.  After verifying the debt, the debt collector can report it, but only as a disputed debt. However, the debt collector may have already reported the debt before you disputed it.  For this reason, it’s a good idea for your letter to include a statement asking them to notify credit reporting agencies that the debt is disputed and should be removed from your credit report.  The law may not require a debt collector to correct reports it has already made, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

The sample letter provided includes all of these.  It asks for specific information about the debt, includes the statement about credit reporting, and also asks that the debt collector have no further contact other than sending the verification.  You can change the letter to meet your needs, if, for example, you want to ask for more information, or you want to have contact after receiving the verification. This is what it says:

Sending the Letter

Before you send your letter, make at least one copy for yourself and keep it in a safe place.  Send the letter certified mail, return receipt requested, so that you can prove the debt collector received the letter.  The receipt will come back to you.  Keep the receipt with your copy of the letter.  These may be important later, especially if you have to go to court.

What if more than 30 days have passed since receiving the initial notice?

If more than 30 days have passed since you received the initial notice, you can still dispute the debt.  But, the debt collector will be allowed to continue debt collection activities and will not have to verify the debt.  Still, if you have a good defense to the debt, you might want to dispute it.  Send your dispute in writing, and include any evidence that supports your claims, such as copies of cancelled checks that show you paid the debt, or a police report in the case of identity theft.  If the debt collector knows that you don’t owe the money, it should not try to collect the debt.  The FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from making false statements about the character, amount of legal status of your debt.

What if I don’t dispute the debt?

If you don’t dispute the debt, or don’t dispute the debt within the 30 day time limit, you will lose your right to verify the debt.  But, you can still stop the debt collector from contacting you by sending the debt collector a letter, (the “cease letter”) requesting that all communication stop.

If the debt collector sues you for the debt in the future, they will still have to prove to the court that you owe the debt whether you asked for validation for not.

If the Debt Collector Ignores Your Dispute

When the debt collector gets your debt dispute letter, they must stop trying to collect the debt. They have to respond to your dispute by providing debt verification in writing before they can start trying to collect the debt again.  If the debt collector contacts you before verifying the debt, keep a record of any contacts.  You can file a complaint with the Alaska Attorney General’s office Consumer Protection Unit, http://www.law.state.ak.us/department/civil/consumer/cp_complaint.htmlor you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by calling 1-877-382-4357, or online at www.ftc.gov.   You can also contact an attorney – the debt collector may have broken the law and you may be able to sue them.

Last Review and Update: Mar 22, 2021