If a debt collector is harassing you over a debt that you thought was dead and buried, you may be dealing with a zombie debt. The usual scenario is an unexpected phone call or letter asking for payment on a debt that is either outside the statute of limitations or is in some other way legally uncollectible (e.g. discharged in bankruptcy). The collector may even offer a “special deal” like a 75% discount for immediate payment. What the collector will not reveal is that the debt is legally uncollectible – meaning it is unenforceable in a court of law.
Zombie debt collection is big business. Zombie debt collectors buy old debts for pennies on the dollar, then try to collect as much as possible. If the zombie debt collector buys an old $1,000 credit card debt for $20, and one phone call settles the debt for $100, the zombie debt collector makes a nice profit. Since the debt is not legally enforceable, guilt and scare tactics are all the collector has to coerce payment.
Some zombie debt collectors actually violate the law by attempting to collect. For instance, trying to collect a debt that was discharged in bankruptcy is a serious violation of the federal court discharge injunction. Threatening a lawsuit for a debt that is past the statute of limitations is a violation of the federal Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA). Zombie collectors not only rely on ignorance of the law, they thrive on it! Some individuals want to pay these debts. While admirable in intention, the result may be extremely harmful. Unpaid debts that have dropped off a credit report may be reported for another seven years after the payment date. That dead and gone debt may reappear as an entirely new (and legal) negative item on your credit report – and substantially harm your credit score.
So what should you do if you encounter a zombie debt collector?
- Know your rights! Your attorney can explain the statute of limitations or other legal restriction to the collection of an old debt.
- Do not give any personal information to a zombie debt collector. Nothing good can result.
- Do not make a payment on an old debt until you learn your rights. What may seem like an honest act of payment on an old debt may turn into a nightmare on your credit report.
Remember, zombie debt collectors are the bottom feeders of the collection industry. They have been known to employ the worst ethical practices to obtain payment. Don’t be haunted by zombie debts. Contact your attorney and chase them back to the grave!