People are fallible. Moreover, every system designed by people is fallible as well. This is why it’s important to review your credit report at regular intervals to ensure the information it contains is accurate. Allowing bad information to stay on it can crash your credit score. It can also lead bill collectors to contact you about money you don’t owe. Either way, it’s useful to know how to prove a debt isn’t yours.
Get Your Credit Report Quarterly
The federal government has mandated consumers be granted access to the reports generated by Experian, Equifax and TransUnion on an annual basis — at no charge. As beneficial as this is, relying upon annual reviews can allow too much room for bad information to land, fester and grow.
A better option is to review your reports quarterly.
To do so without incurring charges, simply ask for the free reports one at a time. Let’s say you begin the year by getting your report from Experian in January. Go back in May and ask for your Equifax report, then return in September for the TransUnion information. This enables you to check your report for free on a quarterly basis. The FTC offers solid advice for disputing errors on your credit report if you encounter false entries.
(Note: Free weekly online reports are available through April ’21 in response to the COVID-19 crisis.)
Understand Mistakes Happen
Given the sheer volume of calls collectors make, mistakes are bound to occur. One wrong digit in a Social Security number, or a juxtaposed address configuration, could find you on the receiving end of a call from someone trying to collect a debt you don’t owe. Should this occur, ask for the collector’s name, as well as the company’s name, address and phone number. Legitimate collectors will provide this information without hesitation.
Admit No Responsibility
The first thing you need to keep in mind when dealing with collection calls is never accept responsibility for a debt until you’re absolutely certain it's yours. Reviewing your credit report regularly will go a long way toward helping you know what you’re responsible for. Your first response should always be “That’s unfamiliar to me, can you provide a validation notice?
Do Not Provide Additional Information
The next thing you need to remember is to keep your personal information confidential. They may ask if such and such address is yours, or if you’ve ever used a particular phone number.
Whatever information they have, don’t correct it. Unscrupulous people have been known to update their bad intelligence with the data you provide to make disputing the error more difficult.
Verifying the Debt
The validation notice mentioned above should include the name of the original creditor, the original loan amount and the current outstanding balance. Contact the original creditor with the information provided to see if they have any record of it.
When you determine the debt isn’t yours, send the collector a written letter via certified mail disputing the claim. Include specifics to support your assertion — without providing additional personal information. They are required by law to stop contacting you once they have that in hand — until they’ve provided counter documentation proving the debt is yours.
If the debt is valid and it’s that far gone, contacting a company like Freedom Debt Relief to help you resolve the situation is a useful consideration. However, this should be the end of it if they’ve contacted you in error. Once they agree you do not owe the debt, get a declaration from them in writing confirming this.
File a complaint against them with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau if they persist even though you’ve proven they’re mistaken. You might also hire an attorney to determine whether you have grounds for a lawsuit. Understanding how to prove a debt isn’t yours will give you considerable peace of mind should an erroneous collection call ever come your way.