Collection ended up on credit report--help please!
December 15, 2009 9:24 PM   Subscribe

Through no fault of my own (in brief: I was unconscious, but may have been unwarrantedly credulous later), a collection agency's action has become visible on my credit reports. How can I remove these?

Here's the story: About a year ago, I was transported to a local hospital by ambulance. Fortunately, I pulled through well, and was discharged within hours with no sequelae.

The ambulance company ("Company A") took my particulars en route. I was in no condition to give my address, so they copied it off my driver's license. However, they failed to notice that I had updated the address on that document, and did not read the back of the card, where the update was. (I live in California, where this incident occurred, and there's a space on the back of my driver's license for just this purpose.)

It has been some time since my first California driver's license was issued, and so the forwarding service from my initial address had long since expired. Therefore, I never received any bill that they sent. Furthermore, as I was unconscious until I reached the hospital, I did not note the ambulance company's name and address (or, for that matter, anything else about the journey).

Fast forward to autumn 2009. I receive a letter from a collection service, stating that I have an unpaid bill to Company A, for emergency medical transportation! I had never received a bill for this, and having been incapacitated, wouldn't have known who to pay. I called the collection agency and told them about this, and they said I should send payment to the ambulance company, and gave me a "trip number" to mention. They also said that if I did so, there would be no complaint on my credit report. I sent payment and heard nothing more of it.

Fast forward once again to the present day. I have recently requested my credit reports, and have seen that all three have collection activity posted owing to this episode.

I am nuclear-pissed about this. While I am considering getting ACAB tattooed on my knuckles and telling people it means All Collectors Are Bastards, I'd readily settle for getting all mention of this out of all of my credit files.

I know I've done some stupid things here (admitting the debt, dealing with the collection agency via non-written means, not following up, maybe even more things), but can I fix this going forward, and if so, how?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A similar thing happened to me -- old doctor bill, contacted by collection agency, blah blah blah. I contacted the doctor's office, apologized profusely for missing the bill, and made full payment. A year or so later I found the collection agency still listed on my credit report. I disputed it, the credit agency looked into it, but the collection agency basically said, "No, she never paid us." So it's still there on the credit report.

In my case, my credit history is so screwed, another $100 or so at a collection agency doesn't make me any worse off. I never tried any harder to fight it. My advice is to dispute it with all of the credit agencies, and be dogged about it -- at least if someone runs your credit, that charge will show as "disputed" on your report.
posted by stennieville at 9:42 PM on December 15, 2009

You can dispute it with the credit-reporting agencies, as stennieville says. You could also try threatening the collection agency with an action under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act for making a false report to a credit-reporting agency in hopes of getting them to withdraw the report.

See, the collection agency fucked up, according to the guidelines of the FDCPA; if they tell you that paying the creditor directly will resolve the matter, they can't make any reports after the creditor has been paid. But the problem on your end is that you most likely don't have a written record of their making that representation, so if the threat doesn't work you're probably stuck.

On the other side, the ambulance company fucked up by fucking up the billing in the first place. Again, you could try to get the ambulance company to get the collection agency to withdraw the report, but you don't have any leverage to make them do it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:54 PM on December 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Dispute it with each of the reporting agencies. Provide documentation of your payment, (canceled check etc.), explain that it was the business who fouled up your contact info (admit owning no part of this) and that you had no way of knowing you had used their services.

If the old rules still apply the agencies have 30 days to prove you wrong or they must remove the negative information.

Good luck!
posted by Feisty at 9:56 PM on December 15, 2009

You are in a very bad position in trying to get this thing off your record. There are quite a few Fair Debt Collection Act stipulations that are supposed to protect people in situations like this, but very few of them work in practice.

Of course you have no recourse, and believe me, I know your pain. Feisty gave the only thing you can do - officially dispute the report using the method described. Make sure to use certified mail. While it's your best hope, here's the shitty part: all the ambulance company has to do to kill your dispute is send over the date you used their ambulance service and then then the date you paid for the service. They don't have to "prove" anything really, other than you did at one point conceivably owe them money and it was in fact very late. The little technicalities of whether you voluntarily used their services or where they sent the bill don't really matter at this point; those are gray areas that the credit reporting agencies don't want to deal with.

However, you can always hope. Two things can happen, depending on how the ambulance service handles business. First, the company can simply fail to answer your dispute. This only happens in something like 2% of cases, so don't get your hopes up. Second, they can agree with you. This is also unlikely, but it's getting in the realm of possibility - with credit companies, they never, ever, ever agree with a dispute because swinging the bad credit hammer is their only threat they can use to keep people paying them on time. With a service-based company, they really have no motivation to keep your credit in the crapper if you already paid them in full.

Just try it I guess, and make sure to take the precautions you mentioned next time you get a collections call.
posted by Willie0248 at 10:29 PM on December 15, 2009

If the above recommendation don't work, try contacting The Consumerist and see if they will do a post about it. It's a long shot but has worked for others.
posted by nestor_makhno at 10:46 PM on December 15, 2009

In theory--bear with me here--it is possible to call the collection agency and ask them to remove the item from your credit report. In theory. Is it likely to work? Not a high probability. But it's not a zero probability, and if you're the sort of person with awesome language skills, easygoing charm and power of persuasion, and if you have the skills to smoke out who the decision-maker is in an organization, it might just work. The only cost to you is the amount of time you'd spend on the phone and possibly a hit to your pride when it probably doesn't work.

Note that at this point, the agency themselves really don't gain anything from reporting on you specifically--the bill's already been paid, and they've gotten their cut. They've certainly got plenty of other people to report on to the bureaus, there's no danger of that process going dry in aggregate by stopping the report on you.

As an aside, speaking as someone who's worked in the industry back in the day, this would have been easier to deal with then, when you had more humans involved and fewer automated systems. Nowadays, yeah, succeeding is a pretty outside chance.

And frankly, would I try it myself, if I were in that situation? No.

The only other immediate option is to dispute, as people have said above. The longer-term option is: do nothing, let it age off your report in a few years.
posted by gimonca at 7:14 AM on December 16, 2009

I had a similar situation to yours, and the dispute route did no good, because as Willie0248 mentioned, all the original peeps had to do was prove that I used their service and was late in paying. No one cared about the other, very relevant details, and I only had phone calls -- nothing in writing -- to backup my side of the story.

So try the dispute, sure. And then be prepared to let it age off your report in a few years when the dispute doesn't go your way. If your credit is otherwise good, it won't be a showstopper in the meantime.

Sorry this happened to you.
posted by somanyamys at 9:45 AM on December 16, 2009

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