Zombies may not be real, but zombie debt is and it’s crippling thousands of people every day. Zombie debt is the name given to old debt that is bought by debt buyers and resurrected to haunt consumers. These old debts may be months or years old and they have a tendency to reappear at the worst time.
To top it off, zombie debt collectors have often been unethical in their collection methods, causing a world of trouble for their targets. If you find yourself being chased by zombie debt, here are 6 things you need to do.
1. Learn your rights
One of the first things you need to do is learn your rights as a consumer. Check out your state’s statute of limitations, which can range from 2 to 15 years. If the time frame has passed, the collector cannot lawfully sue you to collect the debt, though that won’t likely stop them from trying. To put the breaks on the shady practice you need to show up and prove the debt is too old for them to act on.
2. Be careful with what you do
When an old debt comes back to haunt us, many people are tempted to agree to make payments with the new collector. Aggressive debt collectors will try to get you to make a small payment and verbally agree to pay the rest, possibly at a reduced amount. Agreeing to this, or making the small payment will re-open the statue of limitations on the debt, so it’s best to see what the limitations are and how much time has elapsed before making any agreements.
3. Investigate the debt claims
One day you may get a call from a zombie debt collector out of the blue telling you about a debt that you can’t even remember. It’s a good idea to investigate that debt and find out how old it is and if it’s even really yours. The debt collector may have an address for phone service that went past due, but you might not have even lived at the address at the time the debt was incurred. Be sure the debt is really yours before you make any decisions.
4. Check the amount
If you recognize the debt and you know it’s not that old, check the amount of debt to make sure it’s accurate. Often, fees and other charges add up causing a small debt to balloon into something unreasonable. Those fees can be negotiated to lower the total, and consequently lower any payments you may need to make.
5. Ask for the debt collector
Ask for the debt collector to verify the debt and provide you with documentation. You should make your request in writing and keep a copy for yourself. Ask for the original contract, the amount of the last payment along with the details of the last payment and proof that the collector actually owns the debt. There are fraudulent debt collectors out there, so you want to make sure you’re dealing with the real deal.
6. As a last resort, get a lawyer
If you are having trouble handling the situation on your own or if the debt collector decides to sue you, you need to get a lawyer. Look for a consumer attorney who has experience handling debt collections. The lawyer will help you determine if the collector violated any laws while attempting to collect the debt, which could get you off the hook.
Zombie debt collectors can be frightening. Keep your wits about you and proceed with caution as you navigate the murky waters of zombie debt collectors.