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What to Do When You Don’t Recognize a Debt

What to Do When You Don’t Recognize a Debt - The Beacon


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By: Amanda

What to Do When You Don’t Recognize a Debt

Money sometimes can run a little tight during the holidays as we stretch our budgets to accommodate presents and travel, and it can be even tighter if you have debt collectors calling. We, here at your BBB®, often receive calls, emails or other messages from consumers about a debt collection call they’ve received. The caller may be a company attempting to collect a valid debt you just don’t remember accruing, but other times they are schemers attempting to take money from unsuspecting consumers. If you receive a call about a debt you don’t recognize, the Federal Trade Commission and your BBB have the following tips:

1. Know your rights. Read the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act or at the least general information about what collectors can do and say and when they can call, among other things.

2. Find out who you are dealing with. Ask for the collector’s name, the company’s name, address and telephone number. The FTC says “legitimate collectors will provide this information.”

3. Don’t give out additional personal information. The collector might ask you to “confirm” their information. If they have wrong information, don’t correct them with the right information. If you give them the correct information, it may be harder to dispute the debt later.

4. Refuse to discuss the debt until you get a “validation notice.” Collectors must send you a written notice. It tells you how much money you owe, the name of the creditor, and what to do if you don’t think you owe the money. This notice might help you figure out if you owe the debt.

5. Research the debt on your own. Directly contact the company the collector indicates you owe. This should help you determine whether or not you do owe a debt and possibly whether that collector has the authority to pursue the collection. Also, consider pulling your free credit report to determine whether or not the debt is being reported. You can do that by going to or by calling 877-322-8228.

6. Dispute the debt in writing. If a debt appears on your credit report or you receive a notice of a debt you don’t recognize, dispute it by sending the collector a letter (ideally sent certified so you get proof they’ve received it). The FTC suggest that you be as specific as possible about why you think the debt is wrong without giving away too much personal information. According to the FTC, you have 30 days to send that letter once you receive a “validation notice.” The FTC notes that the collection calls must stop during that time; however, the debt does not go away. And if the collector send you a “verification” of the debt, then they can begin to call again.

For more information on debt collection, check out the FTC’s page about it here, and our previous blog posts about the topic below. If you feel your rights have been violated by a debt collector, you may file a complaint with your BBB and/or the FTC.

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Amanda is the Director of Bureau Affairs and is a regular contributor to the consumer education blog. She is one of our go-to colleagues for answering complex consumer inquires. Amanda also manages our charity reporting program.