Wondering if That Debt Collection Call Is a Scam? Find Out With This Letter
Debt might be scary, but debt collectors can be downright terrifying.
Those aggressive phone calls, the letters suggesting that you could go to jail — it’s the stuff of nightmares.
But wait, what if the debt collector made a mistake — or what if it’s a scam?
The best way to scare off would-be fraudsters — and save yourself from an embarrassing phone call at work — is by sending a debt verification letter.
Before you start grousing about the inconvenience of stamps and the post office, just remember: You may appreciate that hard copy proof if the debt collection agency escalates its efforts and attempts to garnish your wages.
Overwhelmed by what to ask for and what to write? We’re here to help — we even have a template that you can use. And since the best way to conquer your fear (of debt) is to face it, let’s get started.
What Is a Debt Verification Letter?
If you’ve heard of a debt validation letter — that’s the legal notice from the debt collector explaining how much you owe, who you owe it to and how you can pay it — then you might be wondering what the difference is between validation and verification letters.
Simply: A debt collector sends a validation letter saying what you owe, while you send a verification letter saying why you don’t.
Both letters are legal documents outlined in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a 1977 law enacted by the Federal Trade Commission that provides consumers with legal protection from abusive debt collection practices.
According to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, you are legally entitled to request a validation of the debt from the third-party collection agency that claims you owe them.
Under the law, after the collector sends a debt validation letter, you have 30 days to respond with a debt verification letter if you want to dispute the debt.
What to Include in a Debt Verification Letter
The #1 rule for debt verification letters: Don’t overshare.
Craft your letter as a response to the specific information provided in the debt validation letter or from your other contact with the debt collector, according to Bruce McClary, vice president of communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling in Washington, D.C.
Don’t be pressured to pay up on an old debt, or “zombie debt” — so named because if you make a payment on it, it restarts the statute of limitations and you’re required to pay it again.
“Include just enough details in the request and the timeline to effectively cover yourself,” McClary said. “Include your name, date of first contact with the debt collector, the result of that conversation in terms of the information that was provided by the debt collector over the phone and your request for official verification of the debt.”
If you didn’t get the information from the debt collector during your previous contact, you can also request the balance owed, the name of the original creditor and information about the debt collection agency currently managing the debt.
What Not to Include
Keep your letter as clear and concise as possible to avoid disclosing information that a debt collector could use against you or a scammer could use to steal your identity.
There’s no need to disclose why you want verification, particularly since your explanation may reveal identifying information to the debt collector that could be used against you.
“They can’t withhold the information because you didn’t give them a reason for your request — just the act of requesting is sufficient enough,” McClary said. “Focus on questions you want to ask rather than any additional info that isn’t relevant to your request.”
If you feel a company’s collection efforts are abusive or threatening, maintain detailed records of each interaction and report the debt collector to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Something else you shouldn’t include? A demand that the debt collection company cease all communications.
You can request that the agency communicate stop calling a specific phone number or only communicate by mail, according to McClary. But no matter how annoying it may be, each contact with the debt collector can provide information that is vital to your case.
“Leave at least one channel of communication open that the debt collector can use to reach you with information about the status of the account and their attempts to collect it,” he said. “It may be a relief that you don’t have to deal with all the stress of their letters and phone calls, but if you shut down all channels of communication, what you don’t know could hurt you.”
A Template for a Debt Verification Letter
Once you have all your facts — and your documentation to back it up — it’s time to write your debt verification letter.
So long as you have copies of all documents, sending it via regular U.S. Mail is sufficient, according to McClary, although you may want to splurge for certified mail with a return receipt if you want to track delivery.
Only provide documents that prove inaccuracies relevant to the debt in question, and completely black out any personal identifying information, like account numbers.
With McClary’s help, we came up with a sample letter you can use (the parts you should replace with your information are in bold):
Your name and mailing address
The debt collection agency’s name and mailing address
I am writing to dispute the following information that debt collection company name provided to me during a phone call/in a debt notice on date. I have circled the items in dispute on the attached copy of the debt validation notice I received on date.
Specifically, I dispute the information for the following reasons:
- Disputed info is inaccurate/incomplete/outdated because of reason (Example: The amount listed in the validation letter was $460, which is outdated because I paid off the debt on 4/11/2014, as indicated in the attached credit card statement.)
I have enclosed the following documents to support my position: list of documents.
Please reinvestigate these disputed item(s) and send your resolution to my inquiry at the address provided above. In your reply, specifically address each disputed item and include details about the steps you have taken in your investigation.
Additionally, please contact the national credit reporting companies to have them correct the inaccurate/incomplete/outdated information as soon as possible.
I also request that you cease any telephone communication in regards to this account. Please send all communications to the mailing address I provided above. (This paragraph is optional and can be customized to your specific request for contact.)
What Happens After You Send a Debt Verification Letter?
The good news: If you send your debt verification letter within the 30-day time period, debt collection efforts must stop until the agency responds.
The bad news: Interest and fees can continue to accumulate on a legitimate debt. But the debt collection agency must cease collection activity until it either obtains verification of the debt information or a copy of a court judgment, either of which must be mailed to you.
So what are your options when you receive the debt collector’s response?
“If they responded verifying that the debt is yours, either you accept the verification and proceed based on what you want to do,” McClary said. “Or if you still feel that the debt is not yours and you want to continue disputing the issue, it may then become necessary for you to consider consulting an attorney.”
It’s worth your time to do some digging on a debt collector. In 2018, the FTC banned 32 companies and individuals from working in debt collection for engaging in serious and repeated law violations.
But what if you send the letter and … nothing happens? Then all your hard work may have helped protect yourself from a fraudster.
“If you don’t receive any response, it may be likely that the person who was contacting you was perpetrating a scam,” McClary said. “In some cases, people will send the verification letter, they’ll never hear back from the debt collection agency and they’ll never get another call, either.
“That just underscores the power of following these steps to ensure that you don’t become a victim of some kind of a debt collection scam.”
And with that kind of power, you can conquer your fear of debt.
Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Read her bio and other work here.