Zombie Debt Collection (Old Debts)

Authored By: Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Inc.


Bringing Zombie Debts Into the Light     
Image: Zombie debtZombie debts are or may be:

  • old debts that debt buyers try to bring back to life,
  • debts you once owed but were written off,
  • debts discharged by bankruptcy,
  • debts barred by the statute of limitations,
  • not your debts, but a result of identity theft,
  • a debt you have even paid in full, but the records have been lost.

Often, scammers will try to con or scare people into paying off these old debts,  using baseless guilt, or threats to frighten people into paying on old accounts made uncollectable by various laws.

While zombie debts may haunt anyone, senior citizens and the disabled are targeted more often than other groups.
Zombie debts feed off of people’s fear and their ignorance of their legal rights.


How Zombie Debts work

Zombie Debt collectors have a lot of tricks to get you to part with your money. 
Their favorites are:


  • Suing, or threatening to, over debts even after the statute of limitations has expired.
  • Threatening you with jail.  You cannot go to jail for failing to pay a consumer debt or judgment.
  • "Re-aging" debts on consumer credit reports illegally. Collectors tell credit bureaus that an old debt is a new one. This extends the seven-year limit on reporting bad credit and puts more repayment pressure on the consumer.
  • Making you believe that a small payment will restore good  credit. It won’t and it will revive the debt.  Even a small payment on an expired debt will reset the clock on the statute of limitations.
  • Bait and switch credit cards. Some credit card companies have offered borrowers low-rate credit cards and then tacked old debts they have purchased from other lenders onto the balance. Consumers say they were never told the old debt would come with the card.
  • Verbally abusing  or harassing consumers.  Some even go so far as to threaten jail, foreclosure, or telling neighbors or family the consumer is a “deadbeat.”


Each of these methods violate federal law.


Know Your Rights

Most debts have a statute of limitations which runs 3 to 5 years from the date of the last payment or acknowledgment of the debt.  Talk to a lawyer to find out which applies to your case.

Debt collectors like to talk folks into a small payment. This starts the statute of limitations running again.

  • Ignore calls on expired debt
  • If harassment continues, write a letter demanding they stop contacting you. Send it certified mail, return receipt requested. In the letter, specifically state that you do not agree you owe the debt. Federal law requires them to comply.
  • Check your credit report yearly on this web site: www.annualcreditreport.com
  • If an old debt appears as “new,” dispute this with the credit bureaus and the collector.
  • Demand  payment records and agreement on which the debt is based.
  • Social Security, public benefits, and most pensions in Oklahoma are exempt from garnishment, even if a judgment is entered against you.  If you are on one of these types of fixed incomes, do not agree to make payments on an old debt.
  • Never ignore a lawsuit.  Contact an attorney immediately.  Certain rights and defenses must be raised in a particular time and manner.
  • You may legally tape your own conversations with collectors.


 A word about Guilt

Debt collectors use guilt as a tool when they know the have no legal right to collect on a debt. 

The law understands that sometimes people get into financial difficulty.

This is why the law protects public benefits and pensions from collectors.  This is also why bankruptcy laws exist.

People on fixed incomes should not have to choose between paying for food, rent or medicine and paying an old debt.

If you are being pressured or made to feel guilty by a debt collector, you have been on the phone too long and need to hang up.  In addition:

  • The zombie debt buyer has purchased your debt for pennies on the dollar.
  • The collector now trying to collect the full amount from you.
  • You have received nothing of value from the zombie debt collector and your original creditor will not see a single cent from any amount you might pay.
  • Zombie debt collectors are often violating the law.  Paying them anything without good cause simply enriches them and encourages them to continue.
  • Most debt  collectors respect the law and the people with whom they deal.  Many zombie debt collectors are predators who respect neither you nor the law and, like other predators, will continue until caught.

Put it to rest - Use STAKES 

  • Save yourself from harassment.  The Fair Debt Collection Act protects debtors from fraudulent or overly aggressive actions by debt collectors.
  • Take care when communicating with collectors.  Never acknowledge in writing that you owe the debt, and remember that it’s legal for a party to a conversation to record the call. Saying that you owe the debt, could re-age the debt.
  • Avoid panic, even if you are sued.
  • Know your rights.  You cannot go to jail for not paying a consumer debt, even if a judgment is entered.   Your house, social security, and most pensions cannot be foreclosed upon or garnished to pay consumer debts.
  • Exemptions and statutes of limitation exist, in part, because the law understands  people on fixed incomes sometimes get behind on debts through no fault of their own.  Do not feel guilty about using the rights granted you.
Last Review and Update: Feb 20, 2013
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