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Don’t recognize that debt? Here’s what to do.

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Debt collectors make up to one billion contacts with consumers each year. It’s their job to make sure they’re collecting from the right people. But sometimes, they reach the wrong person. Other times, they’re actually part of a fake debt collection scam. 

If you don’t recognize a debt, here’s what you can do:

Find out who you’re dealing with. Ask for the collector’s name, the company’s name, and its address and phone number. Legitimate collectors will provide this information.

Don’t give additional personal information. The collector might ask you to confirm personal information. If the collector has the wrong information, like an address or phone number you’ve never used, don’t correct the mistake with the right information. And don’t give any other personal information. If it’s not your debt, but the collector now has the right personal information for you, it could be harder for you to dispute the debt later.

Refuse to discuss the debt until you get a “validation notice.” Collectors must send you a written notice. It tells you how much money you owe, the name of the creditor, and what to do if you don’t think you owe the money. This notice might help you figure out if you owe the debt.

Do your own detective work. Reach out to the company the collector says is the original creditor. They might help you figure out if the debt is legitimate – and if this collector has the right to collect the debt. Also, get your free, annual credit report online or at 877-322-8228 and see if the debt shows up there.

Dispute the debt in writing. If you think you don’t owe some – or all – of the debt, or you just don’t recognize it, send the collector a letter disputing it. Be as specific as possible about why you think the debt is wrong – but give as little personal information as possible. Once you get the validation notice, you have 30 days to send this letter.

By law, the collector then must stop contacting you – though the debt doesn’t go away. But, if the collector sends you written verification of the debt, they can start contacting you again.

And, if there’s incorrect information on your credit report, dispute that, too. You can use these sample letters, using the address given in your credit report.

For more, see our debt collection page.

Blog Topics: 
Money & Credit


Can a creditor put this debt on your credit report after they send a validation letter? How long do they have after they validate the debt to put on your credit report ?

This FTC article about Debt Collection tells more about your rights related to debt collection. It explains what the validation notice must tell you and what you can do after you get the validation notice.

I gotten some letter from uniforms saying I owe 1800+ bucks, I won't b paying a penny I no this is a scam bc I have no credit card and I dont do things that make u in debt. I dont have the money to nor able to even if I wanted to. I dont. I dont have any back payment bc I'm smart enough to only buy what I can afford..

If i call them, then i basically give my phone number away to scammers. I got a debt letter, but i don't have any debt so it's not ok to be sent such a letter, i don't have to dispute something that has nothing to do with me.

Last week received a letter from CMRE financial services, Calif.
States that they are collecting on behalf of High Desert Pathology. I owe $285 from October 2018. At that time I was hospitalized. never have seen this before. contact my insurance. they have not seen this amount submitted or this High Desert. called CMRE for the info for High Desert. they stated that they can not give out that info. My insurance co tried to call. no luck.
CMRE said they would request a copy of bill for me. It has been two weeks, nothing. What can I do. My insurance says such bill would be fully covered for I have no co pay or deductables. What Can I Do to stop this CMRE and clear this up? Please help me

A collector has to send you a written “validation notice” within five days of first contacting you. The notice has to say:

  • how much money you owe
  • the name of the creditor you owe it to
  • what to do if you don’t think it’s your debt.

If the collector calls again you could ask for a validation notice. Read more about debt collection in this FTC article.

I recently receive a statement from Hilco Receivables LLC creditor about a past due balance, I called them and I was informed it was from USA Discounter Furniture store but could not give any more information. I'm not even sure what this about.. what can I do to fix this? I don't recall owing this.

Hi, I just received a letter from an attorney office saying I owe $1500 dollars to a physical therapy office and no additional information. After lots of phone calls, I determined it was referencing physical therapy I had 2.5 years ago. When I had my last appoint they said everything was good, if I owed once insurance paid they would contact me. I never received anything in the mail, phone calls, or emails. Even now that office and their billing office is showing a $0 balance and it was all paid. The attorney office at first said they didn't have any contact information and I had to pay or it would be on my credit report as unpaid debt. Finally she gave me the number of a NCO Financial that supposedly has the 'debt.' At first they told me to call the attorney, but now am waiting on them to look into this. What do I do?

A collector has to send you a written “validation notice” within five days of first contacting you. The notice has to say:

  • how much money you owe
  • the name of the creditor you owe it to
  • what to do if you don’t think it’s your debt

If you think you don't owe the debt, you can send a debt collector a letter saying you don’t owe any or all of the money, or asking for verification of the debt.

If you send the letter within 30 days of getting the validation notice, the collector has to send you written verification of the debt, like a copy of a bill for the amount you owe, before it can start trying to collect the debt again.

Read this FTC article about debt collection for more information.

I am disputing a charge off at the moment and I am so confused with all these people handling this process . Between FTC, CFPB, two different collection companies, the original creditor.....ect...there are so many hoops to jump and balls to dodge , a consumer ( seniors especially) has no hope for a fair shake! I’m probably going to loose this dispute not for legally owing this charge off (because I really don’t) but for not understanding how to use the technology I’m being forced to use to submit my dispute and communicate with too many different people of which none will totally give you the information you need! I can’t keep all the communications in files if I don’t know how so they get lost I think it’s all just really unfair if I don’t have the tools I can’t work


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