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Dealing with a debt that’s gone to collections can be confusing enough, but what happens if you lose the notice?  Credit.com recently received the following question from one of our readers who had just this issue:

I received a notice that a collector was seeking a judgement but have misplaced the notice and have no way to communicate with the collector. How can I find out before it’s too late? — Dan

The quickest and easiest way to find the contact information for the collector is to order copies of your credit reports. As long as the collector has reported the collection to the credit reporting agencies, your credit report will disclose the collector’s name, mailing address and contact number.

Under federal law, you’re entitled to free copies of your credit reports from each of the three credit reporting agencies once every 12 months.

Special Considerations for Debt Collection

In some cases, a debt collector may only report to one of the three major credit reporting agencies, so you may need to check all three of your credit reports (from Equfiax, Experian and TransUnion), just to be safe. We suggest checking all three of your credit reports at least once a year, regardless.

If you’ve already claimed your annual freebie, you’ll have to pay for copies of your credit reports, but in this case it’s worth paying the $7-$9 charge in order to locate the contact information rather than risking even more damage from a default judgment.

If you have more than one collection in your credit report, which can often happen if the collection has been sold repeatedly, then it may be a little more difficult to figure out which collector actually owns the debt and pinpoint which collector would have sent the initial notice regarding the judgment hearing. In this case, you may need to reach out to more than one collector to find out which collection agency currently owns the debt.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Ignore It

In the end, it’s best to do whatever you can to address the collection summons. If you fail to appear in court or respond to a collection summons, the judge will have no choice but to award the collection agency with a default judgement against you. If this happens, it gives the collector additional options to collect, “including wage garnishment or the ability to take money from your bank account depending on your individual state laws,” says Gerri Detweiler, Director of Consumer Education for Credit.com. “Worse, the collector may be able to add attorney’s fees, court costs, or interest to the balance. In some cases, the balance can double or triple due to these additional costs,” adds Gerri.

If you’re facing a collection lawsuit, we highly recommend the following resources from Credit.com. Not only will they help you deal with aggressive collectors, they’ll also help you better understand your options and possible outcomes:

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