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When Your Credit Score Assumes You’re “Guilty”

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GaryR recently shared his nightmare of a story in which a collection account for an unknown debt was placed on his credit report multiple times, creating a Whac-A-Mole situation by forcing him to dispute each item repeatedly while new collections for the same debt continued to pop up. He wrote:

I have a debt collector harassing me with a debt, they say I owe, but have no knowledge of it. I have disputed this debt in writing (certified return receipt). It keeps turning over from company to company and I think I have 4 dispute letters out there so far with 4 separate entities. I dispute, I get a new demand letter from a different company….

Fortunately, GaryR received some good advice and additional hard work on his part led to a happy ending. After numerous attempts at disputing the debt through the credit bureaus, the creditor and collection agencies, he took the advice of Credit.com expert Gerri Detweiler and filed a police report for ID theft over the unknown debt in his name and included that report in a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the creditor. The collections were soon removed from his credit report, and he even received an apology from the creditor!

Unfortunately, though, consumers experience the nightmare part of this story far more often than the happy ending, due in large part to our “guilty until proven innocent” system of removing erroneous collection debts from credit reports. If “nightmare” seems a bit extreme, consider that the appearance of a new collection item can lower a good credit score by more than 100 points — easily putting that consumer out of the running for a mortgage or credit card for the foreseeable future.

And what is required for the collection agency to place a bad debt on your credit report and destroy your credit? Basically, a name, an address and a debt. That’s about it. After that, the burden of proving the debt doesn’t belong to the consumer is on, you guessed it, the consumer.

Consumers receive some protection from the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act which requires that a collection agency provide evidence of the debt and stop calling if requested by the consumer; yet, this all takes place after the collection has been placed on the credit report, to be seen by any creditor accessing the consumer’s credit file, including existing creditors conducting a periodic “account review.”

Image: Clyde Robinson, via Flickr

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