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What can I do if a debt collector contacts me about a debt I already paid or don't think I owe?

If you believe you already paid the debt, do not owe the debt, the amount is incorrect, or that it's not even your debt, you may send a written request to the debt collector to dispute the debt or receive more information.

If a debt collector contacts you about a debt you may or may not owe, don’t ignore or avoid a debt collector. Debt collectors are, in general, required by law to tell you certain information about the debt, and this information – also known as validation information or a validation notice – can help you learn more about the debt and dispute it if you don’t think that you owe it.

Validation information must include:

  • The name of the creditor
  • The amount owed
  • That you can dispute the debt and that if you don’t dispute the debt within 30 days the debt collector will assume the debt is valid
  • That if you dispute the debt in writing within 30 days the debt collector will provide verification of the debt
  • That if you request the name and address of the original creditor within 30 days (if different from the current creditor), the debt collector will provide you that information.

The CFPB also has sample letters to help you know how best to respond to a debt collector based on your situation. Note: The CFPB’s sample letters are not legal advice.

If you don’t think you owe the debt

Once you receive the validation information or notice from the debt collector during or after your initial communication with them, you have 30 days to dispute all or part of the debt, if you don’t believe that you owe it. If you receive a validation notice, the end date of the 30-day period will be specified.

Once you’ve disputed the debt, the collector can’t call or contact you to collect the debt until they’ve responded with verification of the debt.

You can also request that the debt collector give you the name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor. If you make that request in writing within 30 days, the debt collector has to stop all debt collection activities until it provides you that information.

If you’ve already paid the debt

If a debt collector contacts you about a debt you’ve already paid, let them know that you paid the debt by providing confirmation of your payments – but make sure first that you’re confident it’s not a scam.

If you’re sure that you’re talking with a legitimate debt collector, you can send copies of documents that prove you made the payments, including cancelled checks or credit card statements. You may also include copies of any correspondence about settling the debt. Don’t send original documents – only copies – so you can keep the originals as proof.

If you don't have documentation of your payments or letters saying you've paid off the debt, you can contact the creditor who you originally paid to get this information.

Keep good records of your communications with a debt collector

It is a good idea to keep a file of all letters or documents a debt collector sends you and copies of anything you send to a debt collector. Also, write down dates and times of conversations, along with notes about what you discussed. These records can help you if you have a dispute with a debt collector, meet with a lawyer, or go to court.

Keep proof that you sent your dispute to the debt collector

If you dispute the debt, make a copy of your written dispute and send the original to the debt collector. It's also generally a good idea to send the dispute by certified mail. If you pay for a "return receipt," you'll have proof the debt collector received your mail.

Learn more about what to do when a debt collector contacts you.

If you're having trouble with debt collection, you can submit a complaint with the CFPB.