The Fourth Right: Validation
If you’ve ever gotten a collection letter, you’ve seen the following language:
What does that mean? It means that if you have any suspicion whatsoever that you don’t owe that exact debt collector that exact amount of money on that exact account, then you should demand some sort of proof that these people have the right to be bothering you about some money. It is one of those things that, because it comes from a corporation that is trying to be intimidating, we just don’t really see it for what it is. But pretend for a moment that, instead of getting a letter from PRA Receivables Management, Inc. on behalf of CitiFinancial, it was a letter from some guy named Tom Smith, claiming to be collecting for your friend Buddy. You know that you borrowed some money from Buddy a while back, but you weren’t able to pay, so he eventually gave up on asking you for money. Then one day some guy named Tom Smith comes up to you as you are walking into work.
“You owe me $21,000.” He says.
“Uhh,” you say, “No I don’t. I don’t even know who you are. Get the $%&* out of my way before I call the cops.”
“Yes you do. You owe Buddy some money and Buddy told me I can have it if I can get it from you.”
“You must be joking. Even if I do owe Buddy money, that’s between Buddy and me. You’re insane if you think I’m just going to hand $21,000 over to some random guy.”
Tom: “OK, well how about $10,000. That’s a good deal. $10,000 for $21,000.”
You: “How do I know you’re not a scam artist? If I gave you $10,000, how do I know that Buddy won’t come after me for the money later?”
Tom: “You just have to trust me.”
You: “Screw you. If I ever see you again, I’m calling the cops. Seriously.”
That is how debt collection would work if it was done between real people. But, as we modern Americans have been conditioned to just expect crazy talk from faceless corporations, we somehow accept the exact same behavior. Somehow the fact that it is utterly ludicrous just doesn’t register the way it would if we were looking at a real person. So the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act has section 1692g.
15 U.S.C. 1692g states that if Tom is trying to get you to pay him the money you owe Buddy, then you have the right to demand some sort of proof. What sort of proof, exactly? Well, the courts disagree, but typically it means you can demand at least something from Buddy saying “This guy is legit; you can pay him and I’ll never come after you for the money again.”
So what do you do to exercise this right? Just send a letter. Tell them who you are, that “pursuant to 15 U.S.C. 1692g, I demand proof” that you have the right to collect every penny that you’re asking me for. And tell them that until you see such proof, you’re not even going to pick up the phone.
And you can do exactly that. By law, they are not allowed to continue collecting from you until they provide you with validation of the debt. This means that all the phone calls, emails, texts, and letters must stop until they’ve given you something in writing. The only catch is this: you have to do it within 30 days of first hearing from them. So don’t waste time! This is a powerful tool for stopping harassing phone calls dead in their tracks – without even having to hire a lawyer. If they do call you before you receive that proof, they’ve violated the FDCPA and you need to call an FDCPA lawyer.