How to challenge illegal debt credit entries effectively?
August 28, 2014 1:06 PM   Subscribe

I have some bad credit where the debts themselves are invalid and illegal. What is the process I need to go through to get this stuff permanently removed from my credit report?

Essentially, most of this has to do with my military service - while I was legally protected from, for example, cell contract breaking fees and default judgments under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act while I was deployed, they happened anyway, and now they're making my life more difficult.

I know everyone here advises that "credit repair" places are sketchy, but are there any unsketchy places? What should I do? Some of the 'debts' have been resold, and when I disputed the credit report with the reporting agencies, nothing happened - it just changed to "this account is in dispute."

The main one that is causing the problem is a cell contract with AT&T that I tried to cancel (and sent in my orders) when I deployed, but they did not turn off as requested - and I was hit with roaming overseas data fees for autoupdates to the tune of something like 3 grand.

How can I get rid of this, ideally within the next year?
posted by corb to Work & Money (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What have you tried so far? My understanding is that credit repair places mostly just contact the credit reporting agencies and ask them to remove the erroneous information. A bunch of form letters basically.
posted by mskyle at 1:14 PM on August 28, 2014

Contact AT&T. Tell them your situation. Escalate. Document everything. Escalate again. If, by the second supervisor or manager, they haven't solved your problem, contact their corporate offices and complain again. This works in a lot of the cases.
posted by inturnaround at 1:15 PM on August 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you have a consumer advocate reporter affiliated with a local TV station or newspaper, they'd probably love to work on something like this.

Alternatively, are there any veterans' groups that could help you?
posted by amtho at 1:23 PM on August 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

You may be able to take them to small claims court. If they don't show up, your debt will be wiped away. Call your local clerk of court to see if they see these types of filings in your area often. All sorts of strange cases go through small claims, and they tend to be very consumer friendly. The judges decision is real and you can send it to all credit agencies.
posted by littlewater at 1:24 PM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you tried calling DOD legal services? This link lets you search by service and location. I'm not sure how much support they can provide (you've already separated, correct?) but if they can't help directly, they may be able to point you to a local lawyer or veteran's organization that could help.
posted by macfly at 1:46 PM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

FTC page on Disputing Errors on Credit Reports, including sample dispute letters and an overview of the responsibilities of the credit agency and company. Scroll down to the middle of the page.
posted by desuetude at 1:56 PM on August 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

There's a military legal assistance program that you should use as a resource. Don't rely on your commander. I've heard more than once, "Well my CO told me..." related to CSRA issues, and it's not always good info.

Also, definitely check out the text of the CSRA for yourself. You might still not fully understand your rights even when you read it; it's really dense. But that's what the lawyers are for. I just think that reading the CSRA for yourself will give you some idea of the issues you'll need to raise and the info you'll need to prepare when you discuss your situation with attorneys, creditors, or anyone else.
posted by lesli212 at 2:12 PM on August 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

lesli212's advice is good. When we had issues with the same thing (it seems to be a common tactic to ignore the provisions of the CSRA until forced to follow them) it helped a lot to go to the legal assistance people and failing that to cite the CSRA at people in ever-increasing levels of authority at the companies pulling the scam until they relented.
posted by winna at 2:40 PM on August 28, 2014

After everything else and before releasing the hounds, write all of the credit rating agencies and explain that there are erroneous charges. Attach documentation as needed.

Worked for me. Credit agencies are in the data business. Slander isn't their style.
posted by Yowser at 2:46 PM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Some nonprofits assist with this type of issue without charging anything. Look for a legal aid that does consumer rights. If you don't meet the income criteria for the nonprofit, they may be able to refer you to an agency or a lawyer that can help.

If you'd prefer to handle this yourself, check out this information from the FTC on dealing with credit reports and disputing errors.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:30 PM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd fight this with the credit reporting agencies.

Each one has a dispute button, so just click it and start typing. This is MUCH easier than dealing with AT&T.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:03 AM on August 29, 2014

Scody gave good advice here
posted by superna at 11:17 AM on August 30, 2014

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