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Minnesota Attorney General Takes Action to Stop Collection of 'Zombie Debt'

May 11, 2010

Our San Bernardino abusive debt collection attorneys were interested to see a recent article about a collection agency that has come under fire in Minnesota for a second time. According to a May 2 article from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson has asked Afni, Inc., an Illinois debt buyer, to cease all collection efforts in Minnesota until it can identify which debts it bought from phone company Qwest are valid. The request, which affects about 100,000 accounts at Afni, comes in response to a "significant amount" of complaints, Swanson's office said. The complaints included charges that Afni is collecting on "zombie debts" that Qwest has already written off because they had been paid or the debtor was incorrectly identified.

That's what Travis Welk, a 30-year-old Minneapolis man, says happened to him. Welk told the newspaper he was contacted by Afni about debt that he was already told he didn't owe -- eight years ago. The debt apparently stems from a call Welk made in 2001 to price Internet service. He didn't commit to buying it, but Qwest sent him a modem anyway and began charging monthly fees. He returned the modem right away and explained the mistake, but the bills didn't stop and eventually went into collections. After negotiating with a previous bill collector, Welk received a letter in 2002 saying the account was "paid in full"; he says that company told him the collection effort was an error. This year, he got a letter from Afni about the same debt. He said he was frustrated that he'd spent so much time correcting someone else's mistake.

Swanson's office noted that the statute of limitations on debt is six years in Minnesota -- meaning debtors can't be sued after that -- and that debt collectors may not report debts to credit agencies after seven years have expired. That means the debt Afni was trying to collect from Welk is "zombie debt" that the company was trying to resurrect after the end of its natural life. As Carson debt collection harassment lawyers, we've seen many cases like these in the course of our work, in which collection agencies try to collect on a debt the consumers no longer legally owe -- if they ever owed it at all. This strategy relies on consumers to not understand their rights and instead react out of fear. If it is done with the knowledge that the debt is invalid, it is a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. If it is a mistake, the debt collector still must verify the debt on request, or it violates the FDCPA.

At Howard Law PC, we help individuals and families defend themselves against harassing, abusive, overreaching and illegal behavior by debt collectors. In fact, the rights we discussed in this post are just a few of the numerous rights offered to debtors by state and federal laws. Unfortunately, most people don't realize those laws exist, which allows collection agencies to routinely break them. Our Oceanside unfair debt collection attorneys help consumers fight back, most often through lawsuits against the debt collector that broke the law. Under the FDCPA and California's Rosenthal FDCPA, victims of unfair, abusive or harassing behavior may sue the debt collector to claim any actual damages, up to $1,000 in statutory damages and attorney fees. Not only does this stop the harassing behavior and reverse any damage to your credit, but it also penalizes the collection agency financially.

Howard Law offers free, confidential consultations, so you can speak to us about your case at no further obligation to you. To set one up, contact us online or call 1-800-872-5925.