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Skip-tracing errors on unpaid bills can rise to ridiculous levels

Maybe it’s happened to you: you get a phone call trying to collect a debt you know you don’t owe. If you try to convince the collector that you don’t owe the debt or even that you aren’t the person they are trying to reach, it is usually to no avail. Even though there are laws against this type of harassment, people on the wrong end of creditors’ calls don’t often enforce them, either because they aren’t aware of them or they think it is too much trouble.

Many collection attempts are the result of skip-tracing. A collection agency buys a debt to collect. The callers probably get paid a commission or a bonus for the number of successful collection efforts they have. They have information that was purchased from the original creditor or even another middle man. So, needless to say, they don’t know anything about you except what they see on the computer screen in front of them. 

Unfortunately, much of the information purchased by these agencies is out-of-date and erroneous. Some debts are so old that the person who owed them has died. Others have been paid off or discharged in bankruptcy. Some are past the statute of limitations for that debt and can’t legally be collected. But to the collection agency, it is a numbers game and they really don’t care.

One recent example involved a piece of property in Pennsylvania. A man in another state learned in 1998 that a bank had a judgement against him for nearly $100,000 for a property that was in foreclosure. There were two problems with the bank’s assertion that he owed the money. First, the man had never lived in Pennsylvania. Second, according to the purchase records, he would have been 12 years old when he made the purchase.

Nonetheless, the collection attempts continued. And not just on that debt. He also received demands for payments for delinquent water bills in a city where he never lived and even delinquent taxes to fund the city’s school district.

As he investigated, the man thinks he finally found the person with a similar name who actually owed the debts, but that man had died in the 1970s.

As a recent post pointed out, don’t be bullied by creditor harassment. An attorney familiar with debt relief and collection practices may be helpful in enforcing your rights against such stress and humiliation.

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