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Ask Dave

Be Prepared to Be Strong

April received a letter from a collection agency saying she owes $2,900. April doesn't have an outstanding balance with anyone. How should she handle this?

QUESTION: April in Los Angeles received a letter from a collection agency saying she owes $2,900. It doesn’t list the creditor, and April doesn’t have an outstanding balance with anyone. How should she handle this? Dave recommends calling them and telling them she doesn’t owe the money.

ANSWER: Just call them and tell them they’ve made a mistake. There are a lot of things that go on in the collections industry. There are legitimate collectors out there. There is a huge growth of collectors that are completely out of bounds. They try to collect debt that’s not due. They try to collect debt from people who don’t owe it.

In your case, I’m going to guess what they did is just take everyone with your name out of the phonebook and sent them this letter. What you’ll do is call and tell them it isn’t you. Then you’re going to have to deal with somebody who’s unpleasant, but it’s a good idea to go ahead and clean it up. If they have an ounce of legitimacy, then they will ask you for the last four digits of your Social Security number to compare it to their file. When they discover there’s not a match there, then that will allow them to clean your name and your address out of their database—if they’re legitimate. It’s okay to give them the last four digits—not the whole Social and no detailed financial information. Don’t make it any easier on them to hassle you. They don’t even need your phone number. They’ll probably get it unless you’ve got a block on it when they do caller ID on you.

The big deal here is we’re not trying to set up a thing where they can call and start hassling you even more. You’re just trying to clear the account for them because they’ve got the wrong person. If they say it is a match, then you say, “Apparently, we’ve got identity theft going on, so I’m going to need some more details on this account because I do not owe anyone $2,900.” And you’re going to have get some more details and dig into it because you may have identity theft. I’m going to give you a 90% probability it’s not you, and it was a mass mailing to everybody with your name.

You sound like a very nice, sweet person. You’re not entering into a zone where nice, sweet people have the option to continue to be nice and sweet. Be prepared to be very strong, very blunt, and maybe even what to you sounds mean.