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What is Zombie Debt, and How Do I Deal With It?

The Living Nightmare of Zombie Debts

You thought that debt was long gone – buried and forgotten. But like a horror movie villain, it has risen from the grave to haunt you once again. Welcome to the terrifying world of zombie debt.Zombie debt refers to old debts that have been written off as uncollectible by the original creditor, only to be sold to shady debt collectors who will stop at nothing to extract payment from unsuspecting consumers. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry preying on people’s confusion and fear.In this article, we’ll unmask these financial ghouls, examine the legal landscape around zombie debt collection, and provide battle-tested strategies for sending those undead debts back to their graves for good. Brace yourself – it’s about to get seriously spooky up in here.

What Exactly is Zombie Debt?

Okay, let’s start with a working definition. Zombie debt generally refers to debts that are:

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  • More than 3-6 years old (depending on your state’s statute of limitations)
  • Considered uncollectible and written off by the original creditor
  • Subsequently sold to third-party debt buyers for pennies on the dollar

These debts often lack proper documentation, have missing details like account numbers or accurate balances, or may not even belong to you in the first place (thanks to errors or outright fraud). Yet shady debt collectors will use aggressive tactics to trick you into reviving and repaying these “dead” debts.Common types of zombie debt include ancient credit card balances, medical bills, utility payments, personal loans, and even debts discharged in bankruptcy. Basically, any old debt that creditors have given up on can potentially come back as a brain-hungry zombie.

The Zombie Debt Industry: A Multibillion-Dollar Scam?

Okay, so who are the ghouls behind this zombie uprising? Enter: debt buyers and collectors.Creditors like banks, hospitals, and credit card companies regularly sell off millions in unpaid debts for a fraction of their value. Debt buyers then employ teams of relentless collectors to chase down those debts, even ones that are legally too old to collect.It’s a numbers game – these firms know most people will ignore their threats or simply pay up out of fear and confusion. Even recouping a small percentage of these zombie debts can net massive profits.According to a report from the FTC, a staggering 64% of debt portfolios studied contained zombie debts that were potentially ineligible for litigation. Yet the debt buyer industry continues to grow, fueled by consumer ignorance.

The Zombie Debt Survival Guide

So how can you fend off these relentless financial undead? By understanding your rights and taking the proper precautions. Here’s a step-by-step guide to slaying zombie debt for good:

1) Verify the Debt is Legit

The first step is determining whether this is even a valid debt you owe. Debt collectors are banking on you having no paperwork or memory of the alleged debt.Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), you have the right to request debt validation from the collector within 30 days of first contact. This means they must provide evidence that:

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  • The debt is yours
  • The amount owed is accurate
  • They have the legal authority to collect it

Until they produce this verification, you have no obligation to pay or even acknowledge the debt. Many zombie debt collectors simply move on when challenged, since they lack the proper documentation.Send a debt validation letter via certified mail immediately after receiving any zombie debt notice. This stops the clock on the debt collector’s aggressive tactics while you investigate.

2) Check if It’s Past the Statute of Limitations

Even if the debt is legitimate, there’s a legal time limit for when it can be collected called the statute of limitations. This ranges from 3-6 years for most debts, depending on your state.If the last payment or account activity on the debt was longer ago than your state’s statute, guess what? The collector cannot legally sue you over it. The debt is legally “dead” at that point.However, that won’t stop disreputable collectors from trying to trick or intimidate you into reviving the debt with a payment. Which brings us to…

3) Don’t Admit to Anything or Make Payments

The biggest mistake consumers make with zombie debt is inadvertently reviving the collector’s ability to pursue it by:

  • Making even a small “good faith” payment
  • Admitting the debt is yours in writing or over the phone
  • Failing to respond to court summons (resulting in default judgments)

Any of these actions can legally “re-animate” a time-barred debt under certain state laws, allowing the collector to sue, garnish wages, or freeze bank accounts over it. Safeguard yourself by never agreeing to or acknowledging the debt until you verify its status.

4) Tell Them to Stop Calling

Even if a debt is too old to collect, zombie debt collectors will use harassment and scare tactics to pressure you into paying up. The FDCPA prohibits abusive practices like:

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  • Calling before 8am or after 9pm
  • Threatening violence, arrest, or legal action they cannot take
  • Using profane or abusive language
  • Discussing the debt with third parties without permission

If a collector oversteps these boundaries, you can send a cease and desist letter demanding all contact stop. Ignoring this request makes them liable for steep fines under federal law.

5) Dispute Inaccurate Credit Report Entries

In their zeal to collect, some zombie debt collectors will intentionally report old, invalid debts on your credit file to destroy your credit score and force you to pay up.You have the right to dispute any inaccurate or unverifiable debt information on your credit reports from the three major bureaus (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion). The bureaus must then investigate and remove any debts the collector cannot validate.

6) Consult a Consumer Protection Lawyer

Dealing with zombie debt collectors can quickly become overwhelming, especially if they file a bogus lawsuit. Consumer protection and debt relief attorneys are well-versed in FDCPA regulations and state debt collection laws.An experienced lawyer can advise you on the best way to respond to collectors, dispute invalid debts, enforce your rights, and potentially file a countersuit for damages if the collector violated laws like the FDCPA. Don’t go it alone against these financial zombies.

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7) Understand Your State’s Laws

While the FDCPA sets a federal baseline, many states have their own laws further regulating debt collection practices and statutes of limitation. Certain states even prohibit any attempts to collect on time-barred debt.For example, New York just passed new zombie debt rules requiring collectors to include special disclosures about expired statutes of limitation. Other states like Texas and Washington have similar recent laws.Research the debt collection regulations in your state to understand all your rights and potential recourse against overzealous zombie hunters.

8) Consider Bankruptcy if Debts are Legitimate

In some cases, you may determine that yes, you do legitimately owe the debt being collected, and it’s not past the statute of limitations. If the total debt burden is unmanageable, bankruptcy could be an option.Filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy can discharge many types of consumer debts and put an immediate stop to debt collector harassment. Or a Chapter 13 repayment plan can consolidate debts into an affordable, court-approved plan.Bankruptcy has serious credit consequences, but can provide a fresh start if you’re being buried alive by legitimate zombie debt. Consult a bankruptcy attorney to explore your options.

The Nightmare Isn’t Over

Unfortunately, the zombie debt epidemic shows no signs of slowing. The debt buying industry continues lobbying against reforms, while the recently proposed debt collection rules from the CFPB don’t go far enough to protect consumers according to advocates.Until stronger laws are passed, your best defense is arming yourself with knowledge of your rights and the telltale signs of zombie debt. Don’t let these financial ghouls scare you into reviving debts that are better off dead and buried.If you find yourself besieged by zombie debt collectors, or are unsure whether an old debt can legally be collected, reach out to the Spodek Law Group for a free consultation. Our experienced consumer protection attorneys can investigate the debt and take decisive legal action to put those zombies back in their graves for good.

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