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How To Find Out Which Collection Agency You Owe


How To Find Out Which Collection Agency You Owe

Finding out which collection agency you owe can be a frustrating process. Collection agencies often buy debt for pennies on the dollar, so the original creditor may no longer even hold the debt. This makes tracking down the right agency difficult; however, with some diligence and patience, you can get to the bottom of it.

Review Your Credit Report

The first step is to check your credit report. Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, collection agencies are required to report debts to the major credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. So any collections activity should be listed on your credit report, including the name and contact information for the agency. You can get a free copy of your credit report from each bureau once per year at

When reviewing your credit report, look for any accounts listed under the “Collections” section. This will have the name of the collection agency, the amount owed and the original creditor. If you see multiple collection accounts, look at the balances and see if any match the amount you think you owe. If so, you’ve found the right agency.

Credit report on tablet

If you don’t see the debt on your credit report, it’s possible the collection agency hasn’t reported it yet or the credit bureaus haven’t updated the information. In that case, you’ll need to dig a little deeper…

Contact the Original Creditor

If a collection doesn’t appear on your credit report, the next step is to contact the original creditor. Call up their customer service line and explain you received a call from a collection agency trying to collect a debt, but you want to confirm they actually sold the debt and get details. The creditor should be able to look up your account and see if it was sold off to collections, along with which agency it was sold to.

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act [1], the original creditor has to send you written notice letting you know the debt was sold and provide the name and contact info for the collection agency now holding the debt. However, collectors frequently violate this, so the original creditor may be your only way to get details.

If the creditor claims the debt was not sold, that raises a big red flag. Debt collectors are prohibited from collecting debts they don’t actually own. Immediately ask for proof of the debt in writing and report the collector to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau [2] and Federal Trade Comission [3] if they cannot validate it.

Debt Validation Letter

If the creditor confirms a collection agency now holds the debt, your next move should be to send a debt validation letter. Under the FDCPA, you have the right to send this letter requesting proof of the debt and the collector must comply [1]. Send it certified mail with return receipt so you have proof it was received.

The letter should include:

  • Your name, address and account number if known
  • Amount you supposedly owe
  • Request for the full name and address of the original creditor
  • Request for verification of the debt like a signed contract or statement from the original creditor
  • Statement that you dispute the validity of the debt

Review the collector’s response carefully. Are they able to provide complete details about the debt and proof it’s valid? If not, you can dispute it further or negotiate a pay-for-delete. If they validate it, you know for certain this agency legally owns the debt.

Contact State Regulators

If the creditor and debt validation letter don’t give you answers, each state has its own regulator that oversees collection agencies. You can file a complaint and inquire if they have any record of the agency in question contacting you about a debt. Just search “[state] debt collection regulator” to find the right department.

For example, the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions registers and regulates collection agencies [4]. So a Washington resident could contact them to see if the agency that contacted them is licensed in the state and registered as having purchased their debt. This provides another avenue to confirm or dispute who holds the debt.

Run a Business Search

If you’ve received written notice about the debt from a collection agency but can’t confirm details, you may need to do some sleuthing. Take the company name and start with an online business search. Resources like the Better Business Bureau [5] and Google Maps can provide information like:

  • Physical address
  • Website and contact info
  • Names of executives
  • Year established
  • Number of complaints

Search the address in Google to see if it’s a legitimate office building. Look up the executives’ names to see if they have professional profiles and are real people, not aliases. Scammers can easily create fake collector identities to intimidate people, so this allows you to dig into their background.

You can also search the company name plus words like “scam” and “reviews” to see if claims have been made about them being deceptive or predatory. Look at professional review sites like Trustpilot as well. This helps assess if they seem like a valid, lawful agency.

Woman researching company online

Request Information by Mail

If you’re still unable to confirm details about the collection agency, you can attempt to contact them in writing. Send a letter through certified mail to the address they provided requesting more information about the debt. Be sure to keep it brief and only ask for details relevant to identifying if it is your debt. Sending a simple “verify this debt” letter can also work.

Their response, or lack thereof, will help you determine next steps. If they send sufficient proof the debt is legitimately yours, you’ll need to work with them on repayment. If they ignore your letter or cannot confirm details, you can file complaints with regulators about possible FDCPA violations.

Reporting Scams

If at any point you confirm the “debt collector” who contacted you is a scammer, immediately report them. File complaints with:

You should also report it to the credit bureaus and your bank if the scammer has any of your financial information. Getting it on record quickly can help prevent further fraud and abuse. Make sure to request the scammer’s contact information be blocked across the credit bureaus so they cannot keep accessing your report.

Negotiating Debt with Collectors

If you are able to identify and verify the collection agency you owe, you may want to consider negotiating rather than paying the full amount they request. Understand your rights and protections first so you can bargain effectively:

  • Debts fall off credit reports after 7 years – You cannot be sued after the statute of limitations expires, which ranges from 3-6 years depending on state. The collector may threaten legal action but cannot actually pursue it if the statute has expired.
  • Collectors cannot harass, lie or abuse – It’s illegal for them to call repeatedly, make false statements, or use aggressive and offensive language. If they do, document details and report them.
  • Partial payments restart the clock – If you pay even $5 toward the debt, it can reset the 7-year credit reporting period. Get any payment agreements in writing first.
  • Settle for less – Collectors often accept smaller lump-sum settlements because they expect to collect very little on severely delinquent debt. Start very low and negotiate up.
  • Request removal from credit reports – Creditors and collectors are not required to remove paid or settled collections. But it’s common practice as part of “pay-for-delete” deals.

Arm yourself with knowledge before engaging. And get any settlement offers or agreements in writing first to protect your rights. Avoid making payments until the collector agrees to your terms so you maintain leverage.

Notable Resources

Below are some helpful resources with more information on debt collection laws and your rights when dealing with collectors:

Dealing with debt collectors can be stressful. But be persistent and proactive in digging for information, understanding your rights, reporting scams, and negotiating effectively. This will help you take control of the situation as much as possible.

Delancey Street is here for you

Our team is available always to help you. Regardless of whether you need advice, or just want to run a scenario by us. We take pride in the fact our team loves working with our clients - and truly cares about their financial and mental wellbeing.

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