According to § 15 U.S.C. 1692e of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, “A debt collector may not use any false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt.” Attempts to collect money, which is not legally owed is a big and frequent problem. And that is why the FDCPA specifically outlaws: “[t]he false representation of the character, amount, or legal status of any debt.” 15 U.S.C. 1692e(2). If somebody claims that a debt is legally owed when it is not, then that person arguably has made a false representation of the legal status of a debt.
This leads us to the subject of Zombie Debt. This is such a problem that law professor Neil Sobol even wrote a Law Review Article titled “Protecting Consumers From Zombie Debt Collectors.” (In his article, Professor Sobol cites several times to Peter Holland’s articles on debt collection abuses).
In the television series The Walking Dead, survivors of a zombie apocalypse try to navigate their way through a world where anyone who becomes infected and dies could potentially come back to life as a zombie. It only makes sense then, that a debt that you are no longer legally obligated to pay (a debt that is “dead”), but collectors are still trying to convince you to pay (resurrecting it, if you will), is known as zombie debt.
There can be several reasons why you are not legally required to pay off previous debt, including: you have already paid it, it has been settled, the Maryland statute of limitations has passed, or the debt isn’t even yours.
The problem arises when unscrupulous debt collectors still attempt to collect this debt from you, even though you are not legally obligated to pay it.
This article will cover tactics that collectors use and the options available to you to protect yourself and your wallet.
Debt Collectors’ Tactics
Collectors of zombie debt have a bag of tricks they like to use and some that are even illegal.
- Debt collectors often mislead you about the situation you are in. They may claim to be someone they are not (like an official), that you owe more money than you really do, or that you will be thrown in jail if you do not pay. This is illegal.
- Zombie debt collectors may turn to intimidation as a strategy. They could threaten you with litigation, violence, or the possibility of them contacting your friends and family. It should go without saying that threats and harassment are not legal.
- Persistence can often pay in the field of debt collection. Creditors will sometimes call you incessantly, repeatedly asking the same questions, trying to get you to divulge information, either about yourself, your finances, or others. You do not have to answer them, regardless of how many times they ask.
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What Can You Do About Zombie Debt?
Luckily, you can take a few steps to avoid being the victim of a zombie debt collector.
Check Up On Your Credit Reports
This is standard good personal financial practice because it helps to know if your credit report is accurate or not. It gives you peace of mind and alerts you to mistakes, or something more nefarious happening.
Carefully Keep Track of Your Debts
Accruing some debt throughout your life is a natural part of learning personal financial planning. It happens. The important thing is keeping track of precisely how much you owe and to whom. This means keeping accurate records of contracts, statements proving that you have paid off what you owe, and receipts. This is the best defense against zombie debt collectors.
It is paramount that you keep your personal information and that of your contacts to yourself. If a legitimate creditor is calling, they will already have your data, so it is unnecessary and unwise to share it with collectors who fish for information.
Know Your Rights
Always remember that the FDCPA specifically outlaws: “[t]he false representation of the character, amount, or legal status of any debt.” 15 U.S.C. 1692e(2). There are rules put in place to protect you from unruly collectors. They are outlined in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and prohibit collectors from threatening you, harassing you, cursing at you, lying to you while forcing them to respond to a disputed debt. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has several sample letters for responding to a debt collection inquiry.
You have the right to speak with an attorney regarding any debt that you may have (or not have), and should you continue to receive calls from zombie debt collectors, you can tell them to cease communication with you and to contact your lawyer.
As experienced debt collection and credit card collection attorneys, we understand how relentless these creditors can be, and it’s imperative that you protect yourself from unwittingly falling into their trap.
Don’t Feel Helpless
While there are many problematic personal financial scenarios, being forced to repay a debt that you no longer legally owe does not have to be one of them.
If you have been targeted by creditors looking to capitalize on zombie debt, know that you’re not alone and defense and protection is at your disposal.