Dealing with a debt that isn't yours

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Seven On Your Side
July 15, 2010 2:40:47 PM PDT
It's the number two consumer complaint in America behind identity theft; pushy, and sometimes unscrupulous debt collectors. This week the Federal Trade Commission is pressuring states for new legislation to crack down on them. But until then, what's a consumer to do when a bill collector comes calling for a debt you don't owe?

The year was 1995. Bill Clinton was in the White House. The Dow Jones average hit 5,000, and Dionne Turner ran up $12,000 worth of credit card debt. Or did she?

"I was 15-years-old with a bank problem? That wasn't my debt, it was an error," said Turner.

Dionne was a sophomore in high school just 15 years old and had never owned a credit card.

"I don't believe in credit cards. If it's not debit and it can't be bought at the time, I don't want it," adds Turner.

But last month, a collections company named Zenith sent Dionne a notice saying she owed a massive debt to Chase Bank.

Dionne called Zenith and Chase. The best they could do was offer a settlement of $3,500.

"What we're here to say is you actually have rights and you have power if you decide to use," said Chris Meyer, Consumer Reports Magazine.

Consumer Reports says if you're getting notices for a debt that isn't yours you have just 30 days to dispute it in writing.

"You should, in writing, ask the debt collector agency what is the issue, what have I done wrong. Force them to tell you so that you can make a judgment about how serious that situation is," adds Meyer.

Also, the statute of limitations for old debts is just 6 years.

"You cannot be sued on a debt that's older than 6 years, but the debt collectors will ignore that and go after you," Meyer says.

As for Dionne, 7 On Your Side called Chase and Zenith. They researched and found the debt does not belong to her and wiped it off her record. CONNECT WITH NINA PINEDA AND 7 ON YOUR SIDE