What are “zombie” debts?

On Behalf of | Jan 31, 2023 | debt relief |

If you’re behind on your bills, you’re already aware that collectors will hound you as much as they legally can – and some don’t seem to care about violating the law. The debt collection industry has a sort of internal hierarchy, and at the very bottom are so-called “debt scavengers” who buy up old debts for pennies on the dollar.

Quite often, this debt has either already been paid, isn’t valid in the first place or is well beyond the statute of limitations for collection. The zombie debt collector doesn’t care, however, and will often intimidate, lie or scare a consumer into paying.

When you get a call from a zombie debt collector, what should you do?

First, you need to know your rights. Every state has its own statute of limitations on a debt, and in New Jersey, that’s six years. If the debt is older than that, you cannot be forced to pay (unless the creditor has already obtained a judgment against you). Most debtors don’t realize this, and zombie debt collectors certainly won’t tell you.

It’s also important to know something else: If you acknowledge the debt is yours or make a small payment trying to get the collection agency off your back, you could inadvertently “revive” that dead debt and make it active again. That could start the whole six-year time period to start over.

So, what can you do instead? Follow these tips:

  • Do not acknowledge the debt is yours when speaking with the collector, even if you think you remember it.
  • Ask the collector the name of the original creditor, the amount of the original debt and how much is still owed
  • Ask the collector to provide written verification that the debt is yours. Again, this is something they’re required to do by law.

If they’re unwilling, simply hang up and block the caller. If they do provide what you ask, check the age of the debt against the statute of limitations. If it’s over the line, simply refuse to speak to the collector any further. If it’s a valid debt that’s still within the statute of limitations, you can decide how best to proceed based on your situation.

It’s not a pleasant feeling to have a mountain of debt on your shoulders. If you’re tired of collection agencies hounding you, it may be time to explore other options, including bankruptcy.