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Posted: 3:01 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2010

How to protect yourself against scavenger debt collectors

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Scavenger debt collectors are engaging in out-and-out fraud by signing affidavits that allege unsuspecting consumers owe the debts of people who are of same or similar name -- even though the collectors have no idea who really owes the money!

Scavenger debts of this kind are a longstanding problem in the banking industry. Banks with old uncollectable debts on their books will often put them out for bid, which is when scavengers buy them up for pennies on the dollar. Unfortunately, the debts come with very shoddy recordkeeping from years and years of bank mergers. Too often the true owner of the debt is no longer known.

That's created a situation where the Federal Trade Commission reports people are being held liable for debts that either are not rightfully theirs; are outside of the statute of limitations; or, as The New York Times recently found out, are the result of bogus affidavits.

With the affidavits, the collection agencies are en masse filing lawsuits against people of same or similar name in the hopes that they won't show up to court and the agency can receive a default judgment enter on the books -- even though the debt may be out of statute or of dubious ownership.

A default judgment puts you legally on the hook. But you probably won't know it until your wages are garnished or your checking account is emptied by a collection lawyer. Or you could find out about the default judgment when you try to qualify for a mortgage or refinance and get turned down.

So here's what you need to know: If you are contacted by a collection agency about a debt that's not yours, be sure to answer in writing to that effect. Send your response by certified mail and keep copies forever. If you are ever served with a notice of a lawsuit, you must go to court and bring your records.

The New York Times reports that if you go to court, you will win 99.999% of the time. Why? The scavengers have no proof that you owe the debt to begin with. They're just looking for a "drive-by lawsuit" where they get a judgment. They don't want anyone who puts up a fight.

This is a serious issue. If you fail to defend yourself, you may end up paying money to a hoodlum.

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