Whether you’re dealing with debt collection calls or facing a negative item on your credit report, you might be shocked if the debt isn’t even yours. Unfortunately, paperwork errors happen. And once your name is associated with an incorrect debt, it can be frustrating to get it disassociated. Find out more about how to prove a debt is not yours.
Does a Debt Collector Have to Show Proof of a Debt?
Yes, debt collectors do have to show proof of a debt if you ask them. Make sure you understand your rights under credit collection laws.
Understand What Debts You Owe
The first thing to understand when learning how to dispute debt that is not yours is that you have to get your facts straight. It helps if you keep tight tabs on your credit report. Knowing what’s in your credit history helps you know they’ve got the wrong person when collectors start calling. You can get a copy of your credit report for free annually from each of the credit bureaus or invest in credit monitoring.
Getting Verification of Debts
If you’re not sure if a debt is yours—or if the amount or other facts related to the collection are not correct—you can ask for proof. If someone calls you about a debt or sends you a bill without documentation, request a debt validation letter. The collecting creditor only has five days from first contact to provide a debt validation letter.
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, entities attempting to collect a debt must provide you with certain information. That includes the name of the creditor and the amount owed. The creditor must also include a notice of your rights, including the fact that you can dispute the debt. This information is typically sent in the debt validation letter.
What to Do If a Debt Is Not Yours?
If a debt isn’t yours, you can dispute it. You have 30 days to take action on a debt validation letter. If you take no action, the creditor can assume the debt is valid and move forward trying to collect it. Steps you can take include:
- Disputing the debt in writing
- Asking, in writing, for the name and address of the original creditor
You can use the second option if you’re not sure about the debt. It might also be appropriate if you believe the debt is yours but would prefer to negotiate with the original credit for any payment or settlement.
How to Prove a Debt Is Not Yours With a Verification Letter
If you dispute the debt, you do so via a debt verification letter. Essentially, you’re asking the collector to provide additional information that verifies the debt is accurate and yours. When writing the letter, request that the collection agency or creditor provide you with:
- Documentation that you owed the debt at some point, such as a contract you signed.
- How much you owe and the last outstanding action on the debt, which can be shown by documents such as the last statement or bill.
- What authority the collections agency has, such as a license in your state.
You can find a list of sample letters from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau if you’re not sure where to start in writing yours. You can also work with a professional credit repair company that sends and manages dispute letters on your behalf.
Notify the Credit Bureaus
If a company can’t provide you with verification of a debt, it legally can’t continue to try to collect from you. It must also ask the credit bureaus to remove any negative reports related to the collection. You can notify the credit bureaus and ask for them to investigate the matter if the company does not remove the negative item.
File a Complaint With the CFPB
If a creditor fails to follow any of the legally required steps to collect a debt or it keeps chasing a debt it can’t verify, you can file a complaint with the CFPB. A consumer complaint with the CFPB goes through the following process.
- You submit the complaint online.
- It’s reviewed.
- The creditor is asked for a response, which is also reviewed.
- The complaint and other related information are published publicly.
- You’re provided with the creditor’s response and have 60 days to respond to it.
If you believe a creditor is flying in the face of federal financial laws, you can also report them to the CFPB’s tip line. Letting a collector know you know what your rights are and will report them may get them to comply with the law.
Cleaning Up Your Credit
Whether you’ve been the victim of identity theft or simply have questionable or old issues on your credit report, you shouldn’t ignore the issues. Battling for an accurate credit report can seem daunting. But you don’t have to go through this process alone.
Whether you want someone who will aggressively stand up for your rights or you need help managing the online and written dispute processes, professional credit repair services may be the right option for you. These service providers help protect your right to a fair and accurate credit report while you continue living and enjoying your life.