I'm in ur creditz, givin you old bad debtz
October 15, 2007 4:18 PM   Subscribe

I have recently discovered that my identity was stolen. Fifteen years ago. I know the person who did it, or I did ... fifteen years ago.

The person in question was once very close to me, and we shared all kinds of information at the time to be used "in case of emergency" and because our families lived nowhere near us.

The person in question only opened one account in my name as far as I can tell. It has taken the collection agency (or agencies, this debt appears to have been sold several times to several agencies) fifteen years to find me, and as of right now this debt does NOT appear on my credit report. Though after today I suspect it will. Which is annoying since I have enjoyed stellar credit. Until, I suspect, now.

I no longer know any details about the person who fraudulently used my ID to open a credit account. The last contact I had was nearly 10 years ago and we hadn't been close for about 12. I'm stunned that they did this at all. I've never heard of something taking this long to be discovered. I'm not sure what to do. Treat it as a "normal" identity theft? That makes me uneasy, as I can find nothing with the various reporting agencies that take into account my current credit and the age of the debt (and its absence from my report).
posted by WolfDaddy to Work & Money (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
That really stinks!

If I were you I would at least consider possibly just settling on the debt in exchange for the collection agency not reporting the delinquency. You can generally settle for quite a bit less than the original debt and once you fully explain the situation to the collection agency they may be more than happy just to get any money at all.

Of course, that may not sit well considering the debt is not yours and it is not at all fair for you to have to pay it. But, depending on the details it may be worth it for you to just throw money at the problem.

Then again, who is to say that there aren't more issues waiting to surface...maybe your best bet is to fight it tooth and nail just in case it turns out that he also opened up 3 other accounts that haven't managed to find you yet.
posted by ian1977 at 4:35 PM on October 15, 2007

While it seems like a total rip off, you should also consider subscribing to a credit monitoring service to keep an eye out. the other option is to pull your credit report annually for free.

Personally, I would contest the report with the credit bureaus the second it shows up and require the reporting business to demonstrate that you opened the account. 15 years is a long time and it's likely you can fight it but it will take some effort.
posted by iamabot at 4:43 PM on October 15, 2007

Unless I'm mistaken, there's no way for them to report this to the agencies since it's so old. If you pay on it, however, it suddenly becomes a current debt. Be very careful with this as you could make things worse by paying it, oddly enough. If the debt isn't much ian1977's idea makes a lot of sense. If it's a lot of money, though. It's a lot trickier.
posted by MasterShake at 4:46 PM on October 15, 2007

Be very, very careful about "just paying it" - the debt isn't yours, may well be outside the statute of limitations, and probably WILL end up on your credit report if you do pay it.

Also, why on earth wouldn't you treat this just like any other identity theft? For all you know, your buddy's wallet with your info in it got stolen 15 years ago, and it's some scumbag opened this account. Who opened it should be completely irrelevant.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:49 PM on October 15, 2007

Best answer: "Just paying it" also reinforces a system that makes it attractive for collection agencies to go after people, persistently, sometimes with dire results, even if it's not incontrovertibly established that the collectee is responsible for the debt.

In other words, by giving in, you make it that much more likely that other innocent victims will be bullied.

Just going along with a corrupt system can seem like a good idea at first. Please consider the larger implications before you choose a course based on what's easiest.
posted by amtho at 4:54 PM on October 15, 2007 [3 favorites]

Best answer: 1. Don't talk to the collection agency on the phone, they'll try to trick you into doing or saying things that will hurt your ability to fight this.
2. Don't even think of paying it off, they're essentially powerless right now because the debt was from over 7 years ago but paying it or even telling them you'll pay it might allow it to be reported again.
3. Look up "debt statute of limitations" and "debt validation" because these are going to be important tools you're going to fight the agency with.
4. Run, don't walk to creditboards.com and start reading up. This is going to take you a few hours of research and work, but they'll tell you how to do it right.
5. Did I mention not to talk to the collection agency on the phone under any circumstances?
posted by TungstenChef at 5:02 PM on October 15, 2007 [3 favorites]

You should talk to a debt professional about whether this has gone beyond the statute of limitations in your state(s). I believe it has, but IANADP.
posted by parmanparman at 5:03 PM on October 15, 2007

Paying the debt will constitute acknowledgement that the debt is yours and it will stay on your credit report.

In theory, the onus of proof is on the credit agency to prove the debt anyway - ask them for evidence that you incurred the debt in the first place. Fifteen years ago, there would have almost certainly been some form of paper trail and, if they can't provide that, they don't really have a leg to stand on, as far as I can see. In reality, it is hard to stop them recording the debt on your record anyway, I guess and and the onus of proof falls back to you to prove the debt wasn't yours.

Regardless, I would challenge the debt strongly to anyone who will listen and push the same identity theft line, even if you have to get it all straight in your head and write it down as a "script" that you can refer to whenever you are speaking to anyone, so that you provide a consistent message. Document everything, of course. Keep asking to speak to the supervisor of the person you are speaking to if you don't get some action fairly quickly, because there is no point in wasting time on people who can't take any action, but be polite about it and make it clear you are not complaining about the person, but that you need to speak to someone with authority. Rinse, repeat as required.

Good luck.
posted by dg at 5:15 PM on October 15, 2007

Response by poster: Apropos of nothing really relevant to this question ... at least not yet ... I came across this term: scavenger debt collector. Putting it here for everyone to benefit from.
posted by WolfDaddy at 5:24 PM on October 15, 2007

On retrospect, my advice of considering paying the debt was perhaps hasty.

At the very least you owe it to yourself to make sure that the agency is able to dot their i's and cross their t's before you even consider what to do with the debt. It very well could be that they are unable to for whatever fortuitous reason and then the entire issue is moot.
posted by ian1977 at 5:34 PM on October 15, 2007

I and several other people I know have had good results following the instructions in Bud Hibbs' book (now out of print, but used copies available on Amazon), Stop It: A Consumer's Guide to Effectively Stopping Collection Agency Harassment.

Basically, he gives you the verbiage, including the specific laws collection agencies are violating in bugging you, to write them and tell them you will handle the matter with the original creditor. That will at least get the collection bozos off your back long enough to figure out your options. It's a pain in the ass, you have to send it return receipt requested and certified mail and all that, but it works.

Good luck.
posted by yoga at 6:09 PM on October 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

The fact that you're pretty sure you know who the peron was who stole your identity does nothing to mitigate the fact that your identity was STOLEN. It's not like this person borrowed it wiht the intent to give it back. I'd follow everyone's advice here and try very hard to distance the two issues

1. You used to have a friend who you told things to. That friend stole your identity, it looks like. That sucks, but does nothing to change the fact that this is not your fault.

2. Because of this stolen identity that you just found out about you are dealing with hassles from credit people. Again, remind yourself that telling a friend your SSN (or whatever) 15 years ago does not mean that you are responsible for debts they incurred using this information fraudulently way back when. Forget that part.

The more easilt you can separate your felings about issue number one from issue number two, the more successful you will be fighting issue #2. Admit nothing. Persevere. Win. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 7:32 PM on October 15, 2007

Best answer: Last fall, I found out, while closing on a mortgage, that my credit rating had dropped from 810 to 500-something following two "charged off" auto loans appearing on my report. These loans were 8 or 9 years old, so it's similar to your situation. Credit agencies weren't calling me, but just getting these loans off my report was a nightmare--I kept reporting them as errors to the credit reporting agencies, they kept calling the bank that issued both loans, and the bank kept confirming that they were my loans even after I'd been talking to them about it for weeks.

What finally worked: I filed a police report, which I was told would help with the credit reporting agencies. It did! Just having a police report number made a difference. To my surprise, though, the detective was amazingly helpful; he not only solved the case (I had assumed they wouldn't actually investigate it, there being so many more serious crimes to look into, so I was flabbergasted when he called me to say they'd tracked down the car salesman who fraudulently used my SS# to get two loans for a customer who wouldn't otherwise have qualified), but he was willing to talk to the credit reporting agencies and to the bank. As it turned out, that wasn't necessary, but I did end up preparing and sending a notarized affidavit to both the agencies and the bank that issued the loan, summarizing his findings and giving his contact info.

I also once in the past got a call from a collection agency for some video games that were rented and not returned on a video store membership card of mine that was in my purse when it was stolen. I told the collection agent, "Oh, that was from when my purse was stolen." He said, "Oh, so it wasn't you? I'll make a note of it and close this file." They never called again.

Be prepared to be persistent if this does end up on your credit report. Try to stay calm, because even though it's weirdly satisfying to go off on the a-hole at the bank or whatever, it doesn't really help. Good luck.
posted by not that girl at 7:37 PM on October 15, 2007 [4 favorites]

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