Should I pay these Verizon collectors?
May 24, 2012 8:43 AM   Subscribe

I got a collections letter for a Verizon bill that is nearly 10 years old. To pay or not to pay?

Some random collections agency is trying to collect ~$300 on a Verizon bill from Dec 2003. This is the first I am hearing of it.

I called the agency, and they verified that the bill was tied to an address I once lived at, so it probably is mine. They told me the that it was the last bill before service was terminated for nonpayment.

I moved out of that apartment in September of 2003. I think that what likely happened is that I never dealt with terminating the service, as I was a 22 year old screwup at that point.

The letter includes legalese statement about how the debt may be too old to sue over, which gives me the idea that maybe I don't ever have to pay this. I did some Googling and it doesn't seem like I do. I didn't admit to the debt when I called. I'm in Massachusetts and it looks like the statute of limitations is 6 years. I did my credit reports last summer and Verizon wasn't on there.

Should I pay this? What are the ramifications of not doing so, if any? I'm not too ethically troubled by the idea of blowing it off, given that I never actually used the service. However, I am trying to clean up my credit, so I'd like to keep it on my radar if it'll haunt me somehow. If it won't, though, I'd much rather put the $300 towards my student loans.
posted by even butter to Work & Money (15 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you are in the clear. You could contact the Better Business Bureau and double check but if it is that old they have no legal sway over you or collecting on this debt.
posted by Odinhead at 8:47 AM on May 24, 2012

Have you run your annual credit report?. Outstanding collections are upfront and marked pretty clearly.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:49 AM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

they can contact you in an attempt to collect, but if the statute of limitations has expired, they cannot sue you to collect. if you don't want the collection agency to contact you regarding this debt anymore, under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act you can write them a letter and they must cease contact. Sample letter and cite here.
posted by marshmallow peep at 8:58 AM on May 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

I used to work in the collections dept at Verizon Wireless. Heres what happens. Verizon is actually pretty lazy as far as collecting outstanding balances, especially if they lost contact with you. So it sits on a spreadsheet with write off balances that are consitered uncollectable. Then they sell this sheet to a 3rd party colllection agency and they work on finding you. Verizon gets a percentage of what is collected, but since they already wrote it off, its no skin off their back. Then if this primary collection agency cannot reach you, and this can sit in a spreadsheet for years if its a low balance and after a while they don't see this worth their energy they can sell to an secondary collection agency. Usually this is when you really see the bad behavior with collectors, these guys will do anything for 300.00 and Verizon isn't responsible for their actions. The are still obligated to follow the Fair Dept Colllections Practives Act, but they usually are shady people. They WILL report to a credit agency. They are underpaid, unprofessional and motivated and I repeat, they will report 300.00 to a credit report, even after 3 years. My suggestion is before they emotionally hook you into not paying pay it and move on with your life. I say this from experience.
posted by brinkzilla at 9:14 AM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


This debt has to be out of the statue of limitations and paying on it will restart the clock. They can't touch you, can't report it on your credit report (if they do, you can get them to take it off). Look up how on

I spend about a week researching on for a debt of mine, and boy did I learn a lot.

Very important, NEVER pay a debt without asking for verification first (creditboards can explain that in more detail) and do not deal with collectors over the phone, do it all over mail. Also, VERY important DO NOT give out your banking info to them to set up payments, they may take out more than they said they would.

Good luck!
posted by eq21 at 9:23 AM on May 24, 2012 [9 favorites]

*Spent. And other coma splices and grammatical errors. Opps.
posted by eq21 at 9:25 AM on May 24, 2012

Not only is it too old to sue over, it's too old to appear on your credit report (old items generally expire off of it after seven years). If you leave it alone, all they can do is call you and be annoying. If you tell them to only contact you by mail, then they have to stop calling you and can only send you annoying letters.

I wouldn't respond to it at all.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:38 AM on May 24, 2012

They can't restart the clock, since the clock starts as of the initial date that the debt went bad, NOT when you make any further payments. If they try to say that it's restarted and fraudulently place it back on your credit report, that's grounds for getting it permanently removed due to erroneous info.

It's too old for them to legally pursue, and Verizon doesn't care about the debt any longer, since they've sold the debt info to this third party. Next time they call you, ask for their address (or get the address via researching their phone number or whatever), and send them the no-call letter that marshmallow peep references. If they try to contact you anymore after that, let them know you'll be ratting them out to the FTC for FDCPA violations.
posted by scarykarrey at 9:39 AM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Zombie debt! The best source for what your options are, I've found, is Clark Howard.

Run your credit report and go from there.
posted by skittlekicks at 10:01 AM on May 24, 2012

You're in MA. Was this debt incurred in MA? Typically statutes differ based on type of debt (revolving credit, secured, medical) but at this age yes, I'd guess it's aged out. I'd do some googling.

There's some detailed writing I have done about debts, terminology, and some links, all linked from my mefi profile.

Here's the text (with redactions) I sent the last time some zombie debt showed up in my life. They subsequently wrote back and said they'd be removing it from my record and not reporting.

I do not bother to call them out on debt age because I wasn't interested in doing their job for them. Plus if they threatened to sue (which they could not legally do) I could demand compensation under FDCPA, so why deprive myself of $250 possible? But for the most part you want to demand validation (which zombie buyers rarely have) and make it clear you're not going to just roll over. They're really after low-hanging fruit so this would deal with 75% of this sort of thing.

May 14, 2007

Midland Credit Management, Inc Department 8870
Los Angeles, CA 90084-8870

Dear Midland Credit Management, Inc:

I received your letter, dated April 13th 2007, on April 23rd, 2007. In it you make an offer to accept settlement on an account that you indicate you have purchased from [REDACTED big ass bank]. You have identified this as MCM Account Number [REDACTED] and with a current balance of $[REDACTED].

Before we can have any further discussion I need you to provide me with sufficient validation of the accuracy of this debt. I trust you will comply with the law and cease any and all collections activity, including any credit reporting, until such time as you obtain sufficient validation and provide it to me.

It is inconvenient for me to conduct this sort of business over the phone, so please confine yourself to written communication. Further, I explicitly do not authorize you to share any non-public information you gather on me with any third party.

[REDACTED my legal name and address]

Enclosures (4)

cc: Midland Credit Reporting Department 8875 Acro Drive, Suite 200
San Diego, CA 92123
posted by phearlez at 10:10 AM on May 24, 2012 [19 favorites]

I like the letter above, but you can safely ignore this.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:28 AM on May 24, 2012

I like the letter above, but you can safely ignore this.

Sort of. Here's the thing: the statute of limitations on the collection of a debt is an affirmative defense in most places. If a collector believes you are going to be non-responsive and they're already suing a bunch of people then they can file with the hope that you're a no-show. If you don't show up and raise that defense then they can still win against you and get a judgment. In some circuits you won't be able to raise the SoL again if you missed the initial window, just as in some circuits (9th I believe) you must request validation within the initial 30 day window or miss your shot.

The days when I soaked in this are coming on a decade old and clearly some things have changed; this SoL notice on the initial letter, for example, is new to me (though probably confined to MA). So it's possible some of this has changed and MA may no longer require you affirmatively raise SoL (though I'm inclined to think no else they wouldn't also require the notice). I also think this is less likely for a $300 debt with the FDCPA penalties coming close to that amount.

But personally? I'd send the letter and cover my ass and make it clear you're not going to be bullied. If for no other reason than you can prevent them from ever calling you on the phone again (unless they want to pay you the FDCPA violation fees of course).
posted by phearlez at 11:56 AM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do not pay this, agree to pay it, or even talk to the people. Send them a letter telling them they are never to contact you by any means whatsoever. If they subsequently do, you have FDCPA money waiting for you if you sue. Watch your credit reports. To get this debt on your report, they will have to re-age it, which is a violation. More money.

If they do actually sue you, you still have to respond and raise the statute of limitations as a defense and request dismissal of the case. You can't completely ignore it, but you can make it worth your while if the collector is at all scummy.

scarykarrey: "They can't restart the clock, since the clock starts as of the initial date that the debt went bad, NOT when you make any further payments."

That's not true. A payment is usually construed as a promise of payment, which does restart the clock.

even butter, use phearlez's example letter. It's good. As I said before, it's too old to remain on your report and it's also too old for them to sue over, so you have nothing to worry about. Just don't ignore them if they do sue you (which is highly unlikely, they're rarely dumb enough to try that on something this far gone) and you'll be fine.
posted by wierdo at 7:03 PM on May 24, 2012

Send them a letter telling them they are never to contact you by any means whatsoever. If they subsequently do, you have FDCPA money waiting for you if you sue.

Please be careful with this and please be careful giving this advice, wierdo. You absolutely have the legal right to demand they cease all communication with you... at which point their only avenue left is to sue you. If they have no standing to do so then great. However if you have misread the situation, misinterpreted the law/SoL, are wrong about the debt age, if someone else made a payment and re-aged the debt, etc, etc, etc...

Then now you are in the far less attractive position of needing to respond to a legal filing. Which if you're in the right is at minimum a hassle, if you're wrong you may have narrowed your options and could end up with a worse deal.

tl;dr - demanding that a debt collector not contact you by any means is risky. Demanding written-only reduces your annoyances, provides written proof of any over-reach, and allows you to verify what's really going on while still leaving options open. If throwing away some junk mail is too big a hassle for you then you may have larger problems functioning in modern society.
posted by phearlez at 8:53 AM on May 25, 2012

Sure, but the OP seems to be quite certain that any suit on the debt would be barred by the SOL and the debt collector acknowledged that in their letter. I do fully agree that it is a rare situation in which a full C&D is appropriate, but this seems like one of them. You are more likely to have them rack up FDCPA violations if you continue to allow them to communicate with you, though.

I don't believe someone else's payment (without your consent) can be construed as an agreement to pay or even acknowledgement of the validity of the debt. It would make the legal situation much more..interesting, to be sure. If that were the case, the FCRA (and the statute of limitations itself as it applies to debts) would be essentially meaningless. If I were a debt collector, I could just "pay" a dollar on behalf of the debtor.

I wouldn't want to be the one arguing that case, though, not being a lawyer.
posted by wierdo at 4:09 PM on May 26, 2012

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