Identity theft - help!
June 23, 2007 8:31 PM   Subscribe

I am having problems with a debt collection agency who are being mean to me after an identity theft incident. Does anybody have any good advice?

A couple of months ago I got a phone call from GC Services debt collection agency, saying I owed over $2000 for a Nextel bill that had been opened in my name using my social security number.
I contacted the credit bureaus to put out a fraud alert and got upsold to a credit monitoring service from Equifax. I googled around and found some sample letters, which I faxed and mailed to GC Services. The letter said that I formally dispute the debt, that I required GC Services to send me the evidence that I owed this debt, and reminded tham that whilst the debt was under dispute, they are not allowed to contact the credit agencies about it.
Since then they have sent me a few paper bills, but not the information I requested.
I guess that the fraud alert must have expired, because I have just been emailed by equifax to say that a collections account has been added to my report.
What do I do next? Obviously calling the credit bureau is the first step, but I have been on hold for over 30 minutes and do not believe the service is really 24/7 as advertised.
Further information: I am in NYC; I know nothing about American law; I can't afford a lawyer; I do not have time for this shit.
posted by nowonmai to Law & Government (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What legal proof do you have of "identity fraud" other than saying "I don't recall opening this account?" Without that proof you're going to have a hard time convincing the collection agency that you didn't open the account.

Further, how did this $2000 Nextel bill go all the way to collections without being noticed by you?

I'm not trying to question the validity of your claims, but these are the questions that your debtors are asking themselves as they go after you...
posted by wfrgms at 8:53 PM on June 23, 2007

Fraud alerts are only good for 90 days, then you have to set them again. Credit monitoring is nice if you look at the data.

I recently signed up with Lifelock, which takes care of the fraud alerts every 90 days among other things, like removing your name from mailing lists, etc (something the credit bureaus won't do because that's how they make their money - selling your information). They will also get you free credit reports.

Now, IANAL::
First thing is you have to make sure the collection agency understands it's not your account. They are required by law to prove that the bill belongs to you - sending a bill does not constitute proof. This will take a while because they may not have the information and will have to get it from the service provider.

Second, you can go online to each of the credit bureaus and dispute items on your credit report. Again, this is not a short process either - but you don't have to sit on hold to get it done.
posted by ca_little at 9:15 PM on June 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

What legal proof do you have of "identity fraud" other than saying "I don't recall opening this account?"

The creditor has to produce your signature. It won't match.
posted by kindall at 9:23 PM on June 23, 2007

Presumably, you've seen this.

Hopefully, the credit bureau will have additional advice once you finally get them on the phone. I've got my fingers crossed for you that they take your call tonight, if just for your peace of mind.

I'm not sure that you need to have "legal proof" that you did not open the account. If they want your money, they need "legal proof" they had a contract with you. Unless you have a mental incapacity, entering into a service contract as complicated as a cellular service contract is not something you would simply fail to recall. Moreover, obviously, if you were to have a mental incapacity, any contract you entered would be of dubious validity. Walk the credit bureau through the chain of events, be clear, polite, and firm.

And, correct me if I'm wrong, but I would assume that the $2000 bill went to collections without being noticed by you because the bills were being sent to another address. When the account became sufficiently overdue, collections became involved and found your actual address. I fail to grasp any mystery there--not quite following what the first poster was uncertain about.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:23 PM on June 23, 2007

Response by poster: What legal proof do you have of "identity fraud" other than saying "I don't recall opening this account?" Without that proof you're going to have a hard time convincing the collection agency that you didn't open the account.
None whatsoever. What such proof could exist that I might be able to obtain?
Further, how did this $2000 Nextel bill go all the way to collections without being noticed by you?
I was never sent a bill by Nextel; apparently the fraudsters used an address other than mine.
posted by nowonmai at 10:02 PM on June 23, 2007

letter said that I formally dispute the debt, that I required GC Services to send me the evidence that I owed this debt

Did you use one of the boilerplate letters, or write your own? If the latter, write again using the boilerplate. So the legal language is just so. If you've already done that, step 2 is to call the attorney general's office of the state in which the agency operates. Debt collectors are licensed by their state, and you've got a right to enter a formal complaint about their unethical business practice. I've been in similar situation, and the agency shaped up quickly once I pointed out (in a letter cc'd to the AG's office) that they were setting themselves up to owe me $1k. If they don't produce validatation of the debt, sue over the FCRA violation. Small claims court is dirt cheap, and you can do all the paperwork in an hour (including time spent in front of the photocopier). There should be a free "small claims advisor" (read: law student) who can walk you through it.

I do not have time for this shit.

Sucks, but somehow make the time. Avoidance will only make this problem grow more hideous. They'll keep tacking on interest and late fees, and escalate harassment collection.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 10:17 PM on June 23, 2007

You need to send them a letter demanding that they prove the debt they're trying to collect is valid, and that they need to cease all collection activity until they do so. Send it certified mail, return receipt requested (should cost you about $5).

They'll keep tacking on interest and late fees

Ultimately, it doesn't matter, because he doesn't have to pay them anything if he didn't ever open that account.
posted by oaf at 3:31 AM on June 24, 2007

What legal proof do you have of "identity fraud" other than saying "I don't recall opening this account?" Without that proof you're going to have a hard time convincing the collection agency that you didn't open the account.

It's not an alleged debtor's job to prove to a creditor that they don't owe money. The creditor has the burden of proof. That said, they can add stuff to your credit report without proof. But if you dispute it they need to provide the proof.

You can get a fraud alert placed for seven years, but you will have to write in with a report that you have made to a law enforcement agency.
posted by grouse at 4:36 AM on June 24, 2007

Just dispute the debt with the credit bureau - whatever you have to do, which probably has to be in writing, not just over the phone.

If a creditor calls, get their address and write them a letter telling them to stop contacting you. From the FTC website:

"Can you stop a debt collector from contacting you?

You can stop a debt collector from contacting you by writing a letter to the collector telling them to stop. Once the collector receives your letter, they may not contact you again except to say there will be no further contact or to notify you that the debt collector or the creditor intends to take some specific action. Please note, however, that sending such a letter to a collector does not make the debt go away if you actually owe it. You could still be sued by the debt collector or your original creditor."

That's it. Dispute any invalid debts on your credit report with the credit bureau, write to any creditors telling them the debt is invalid and to stop contacting you. Don't ask for evidence of the debt if you know it isn't yours. You don't have to get into any sort of back and forth with them, or be worried about anything - they won't sue since they don't have a case, and that's the only avenue open to them.
posted by jellicle at 7:40 AM on June 24, 2007

I am not your lawyer.

If you followed a valid prescription letter that asked for verification of the debt, and sent it, and verification was not forthcoming and that collection agency went ahead and (re)placed a bad debt on your credit record then, if you have a record of you contacting them asking for verification, they have performed an actionable offence and you have a claim against them. You can collect using the conditions enumerated in the FDCPA. Don't bother filing in any local small claims court - this is a federal offence and for it wull cost you around $300 to file in Federal court - of which you will get the filings costs back, plus damages.

You can do this yourself, or you can engage a local credit lawyer - these kinds of cases are easy for them to process and a simple, steady revenue stream.
posted by meehawl at 9:46 AM on June 24, 2007

Did you try calling Nextel?

I had my identity stolen by a woman who opened countless cell phone accounts using my SSN. I've gotten them removed from my credit report in various ways, but I've always needed a police report.

So what I would do if I were you, is call Nextel and see if they can verify that the account isn't yours (like not your address, name, etc.). If they can't, file a police report and try it again. If you fax the report (and/or proof from Nextel) to the collection agency, they should remove the faulty claim within weeks.

Putting a fraud alert on your credit only stops people from applying for credit in your name/SSN in the future. It does nothing for past fraudulent activity.

Hope that's the only one they've opened, or you could have to go through this over and over (like I did). Save your paperwork and good luck.
posted by TG_Plackenfatz at 3:57 PM on June 24, 2007

You know, I don't think I stressed enough how important the police report is--it's like an automatic win once the billing company and the collection agency see it.

Getting this off of your credit report is not as hard as some of the posters above might have you believing (you certainly don't need a lawyer [yet]), though it can be a bit time consuming. I've done this around 8 or 9 times (I'm in NYC too), and each has gone fairly smoothly.
posted by TG_Plackenfatz at 4:04 PM on June 24, 2007

Only one person mentioned a lawyer, and that was for the purposes of trying to make some money off the collectors, not just getting the item off the credit report.
posted by grouse at 4:37 PM on June 24, 2007

You don't have to sit on the phone. You can dispute the collections mark on your credit report with Transunion, Equifax, and Experian right on their websites. You just have to pull up a copy of your report so you can be specific about what you are disputing, and these copies are free since you believe your report has been adversely affected due to fraud. They hide the links for free reports, but they are here (via creditboards) for Transunion, Experian (click 'Get my Report Now'), and Equifax (Equifax will constantly add on things so be sure to uncheck things that require payment).

I second that you might want to skim the FDCPA to know your rights. If they didn't send the validation you asked for but still communicated with the credit reporting agencies, sounds like they're in violation.
posted by salvia at 8:20 PM on June 24, 2007

@grouse: The OP mentioned a lawyer--that's why I did.
posted by TG_Plackenfatz at 4:01 AM on June 25, 2007

Response by poster: TG_Plackenfatz: How did you get the police report? The police told me I couldn't get a report without some kind of proof of the fraud, and all I have is bills from the debt collection agency.
posted by nowonmai at 9:55 AM on June 25, 2007

Federal Trade Commission: What do I do if the local police won't take a report?
posted by grouse at 10:45 AM on June 25, 2007

Hmm. I got copies of the fraudulent bills and took them to the precinct. Since the address on the bills wasn't mine, that was proof enough.

A few days later, the detective went out to the physical address and checked around. He was unable to pin down exactly who was committing the fraud once there, but I still had the slip of paper that I needed to provide to the creditors.
posted by TG_Plackenfatz at 1:21 PM on June 25, 2007

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