Dealing with collection attempts for zombie debts

By Marrero, Chamizo, Marcer Law, LP,

When Florida consumers suddenly receive a letter or a phone call about a debt that they don’t know anything about, they could be facing a ‘zombie debt.” This term refers to an obligation that has lain dormant for years before being resurrected by a collections agency. It may or may not be legitimate.

Sometimes a zombie debt is a debt that a person simply forgot about until debt collectors purchased it from creditors. Debt collectors often buy old debts from creditors for pennies on the dollar and then harass debtors until they pay at least a portion of the debt. Many of these debts have already expired, and the debtor cannot actually be sued for payment. However, making even one payment on an expired debt can restart the statute of limitations.

Some are completely illegitimate debts that a person never owed in the first place. Collections agencies sometimes harass people about debts that were discharged in bankruptcy, settled with a creditor or incurred because of identity theft. In 2015, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau received more than 85,000 complaints about debt collectors, and most of them involved collection attempts for illegitimate debts.

Although many zombie debts are not collectible, it is not wise to simply ignore these collection attempts. People who are being harassed may want to talk to an attorney about how to stop debt collectors from pursuing payment. An attorney may help a person by sending cease and desist letters to the collection agencies, challenging the debts or seeking debt relief for valid debts, which could include filing for bankruptcy.