What can I do if I recently got a call from a collection agency (and then a letter), claiming that I owe almost $24,000 for a credit card I never had?
Question Details: I never owned a credit card until years later. They actually recited my SSN. How do to protect myself from this?
Identity theft is becoming a bigger consumer problem everyday. It's a hassle to have to deal with... but there are steps you can and should take to resolve the situation.
Step number one is to dispute the debt. On the letter they sent you, there should be a form that they included or noted somewhere on the letter which enables you to dispute the account and demand verification of the debt. Most legit companies will provide the form, but in the event that they did not, you need to send a written request for "verification of the account" that they are attempting to collect on and tell them specifically that you are disputing this account as an incident of identity theft. Use this exact language or something very similar-- dispute and verifiy are the two major key words. With this type of dispute, they should consider identity theft an issue and assist you with the investigation. They will send you a verification packet which can give you a starting point for filing charges.
If the debt collection agency fails to respond to your request to dispute and demand verification, you can file a complaint with the FTC or your state's attorney general office. Both complaint systems are free.
Your second step should be to contact your local law enforcment and report the incident of identify theft. I'm listing this as a second action -- but you don't have to wait on the collection agency to invoke this option. They can happen on the same day.
If the first two steps don't work to get you a resolution, then consult with a consumer law attorney to file suit against the collection agency or to help you press the criminal charges forward.
A word of caution when dealing with collectors on the phone.... if you have to tell them your personal information to confirm who you are, then you could be faced with a scam to get the rest of your personal identification number. You also need to run your credit history to see what is actually appearing on your credit reports. Even though you may resolve the issues with this collector, the false information could appear on more than one credit report, for which you would need the process of above on one or more reports.