Can a bill collector contact me when a court already determined that the debt is unenforceable?

A debt collector can ask you to voluntarily pay a debt that you are not legally required to pay. Here's why, and how to get the collector off your back.

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Question

A creditor sued me for an old credit card debt, but I disputed it and won the lawsuit. Now, a debt collector is contacting me about the same account. Is that legal?

Answer

The short answer is yes. When you win a lawsuit brought by a creditor for nonpayment of a debt, it usually means that the debt is no longer legally enforceable. You may have won the lawsuit because the statute of limitations (the time the creditor had to sue you) expired on an old debt, or you proved that you already paid the debt or that the debt was never yours to begin with, among other reasons. However, despite the lawsuit, a debt collector can still contact you about that debt. It just has to be careful with how it goes about contacting you and what it says.

The FDCPA Limits What the Debt Collector Can Say or Do

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a debt collector cannot sue or threaten to sue you for an unenforceable debt. However, a debt collector can still contact you and ask you to voluntarily pay it. And the unpaid debt may still show up on your credit report, even if you don't have to pay it.

Here's what the bill collector cannot do: It can't report the account as a new debt. And it cannot lie or make misleading statements about the validity of the debt. For instance, if the debt expired under your state's statute of limitations, the debt collector cannot tell you that it is still enforceable or tell you that it is newer than it really is.

Debt Validation

If your issue with this debt is not that it is too old, but that you already paid it or never owed it, then you should dispute it in writing and request that the debt collector verify the debt. The debt collector must then cease all further collection efforts until it has verified the debt. If you already did that and the debt collector is still contacting you anyway, without verifying the debt, then it has violated the FDCPA. To learn more, see Nolo's article Debt Validation.

Tell the Collector to Go Away

Whatever the reason is as to the unenforceability of the debt, the best way to handle it is to simply tell the creditor or debt collector to leave you alone. It cannot sue you, so tell it, in writing, to stop contacting you. If you do that, but the debt collector still contacts you, then it may be in violation of the FDCPA. For more information, read Debt Scavengers and Zombie Debt.

For more information on what a debt collector can and cannot do, and what you can do if collectors violate the law, visit our Illegal Debt Collection Practices topic area.

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