If you have accounts that have gone to collections you have a right under the FDCPA (Fair Debt Collection Practices Act) to a process referred to as "Debt Validation".
Whether you actually owe money or not, you have a right to ask the collector for validation. Validation should verify things like the amount owed, dates (such as the DOLA) and other details of the account that show it is indeed accurate and valid, and that the collector has a right to collect on it.
We won’t go into the details of "why" debt validation is needed for this article. Our focus today is going to be on the process itself.
And exactly how does the process go? It involves sending a debt validation letter to the collector and following up appropriately when they fail to validate the debt.
Here’s a more detailed overview:
1. Usually it starts with a collection notice or an unexpected collection showing up on your credit report.
2. For the validation process, you send a debt validation letter to the collector who reported the information and/or contacted you. The letter might say something like:
"Please validate this account with CURRENT creditor records, and send me copies of what you receive from them. Please send 1. the original amount of the debt, 2. the name and address of the creditor to whom I supposedly owe money, and 3. copies of the contract showing that you have the proper authority to collect this debt."
3. In rare cases, a collector might respond with a lot of documentation and detailed paperwork. It’s happened before, and it’s more common on newer accounts. If the account is new, the amount is relatively small, and the collector is contracting with the creditor, your best bet may be to try to get the creditor to take the account back, and then negotiate/settle directly with them or just pay it in full it if is small enough. This is a good tactic in cases where a leftover $30 charge on a phone bill went to collections without you being aware of it.
4. Often the collector will respond with some form of "validation" that does not actually validate anything. One common collection tactic is sending a phony affidavit which basically says "We promise, we’re telling the truth!" As scary and official as those affidavits might look, they are NOT sufficient for validation under the FDCPA. If you get one or some other insufficient validation, proceed to step 5.
5. Assuming the collector has failed to validate the debt, you should follow up with them outlining their violations of the FDCPA, and possibly with complaints to the BBB. Keep in mind that if the debt is huge, the collector might not be bothered by a single violation, and large debts are more likely to draw lawsuits from collectors.
As a rule, the older the debt is, the harder it will be for the collector to collect on it and the less likely they will be able to truly validate the account.
If an account is older and past the SOL, it is recommended to use techniques that focus on the SOL rather than debt validation. Depending on the situation you could also try a "pay for removal" approach for some older accounts.