What if a debt collection agency refuses to give any details about an outstanding bill?

By on September 3rd, 2015 in Industry Insights

Originally answered on Quora: TrueAccord’s CEO, Ohad Samet, answers questions about debt collection. (Edited to expand on the answer, as well as to add notations and information.)

What should I do if a debt collection agency refuses to give any details (except the amount due) about an outstanding bill?

I visited a hospital in another state in 2014. By the time the hospital sent a bill to my temporary address, I had moved state. A few months later, a collection agency called me asking me to pay the dues. I called the hospital to verify the details given by this agency. It checked out, so I paid the hospital and got a zero due certificate from the hospital. One fine day, I find an entry in my credit report from another collection agency for the same hospital bill. (The due amount was different this time).

I called the collection agency and they said they don’t have any details regarding this bill except the amount and asked me to contact the hospital for more details.

I called the hospital, physician’s billing office and the insurance company for an explanation of benefits (EOB). The hospital and physician’s office confirms that there is no record of any dues against my name. This due amount does not show up anywhere in the Insurance’s EOB. Today, the collection agency has made another entry in my credit report for the same balance.

The agency continues to not give me any more information (in spite of multiple phone calls asking for more information) regarding the outstanding balance other than asking me to pay up. How should I solve this?
 There are two separate issues here.

The collection agency is probably violating the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) by reporting incorrect information to consumer reporting agencies.

They are also possibly violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) by not giving you more information about your debt, after you explicitly request it.

Fair Credit Reporting Act

Judging by the information provided here, the agency in question violated the FTC-enforced FCRA. Reporting an unpaid debt to the credit reporting bureaus (so that it shows up on your credit report) is a violation when it is paid or disputed. Incorrect information on your credit report can be disputed – learn more from the FTC here: Consumer Reports: What Information Furnishers Need to Know.

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

The FDCPA allows for filing debt disputes or requests for debt verification. When a consumer disputes a debt, the collection agency is required to verify the information with the original creditor to make sure that a debt is indeed owed. The problem is that debt disputes are very technical.

They have to be done in writing, within a 30-day time frame and if the collection agency sticks to the letter of the law (depending on your state of residence), may require very specific information to be exchanged. You most likely haven’t met all the conditions required in filing a legitimate debt dispute, unless you lawfully recorded the phone calls between the agents of the collection agency and yourself. See more here: When debt collectors try to collect debt that you don’t owe – TrueAccord Blog.

My advice to you:

  • Lawyer up. Many FDCPA/FCRA consumer lawyers work on contingency and will be able to give you a professional opinion.
  • Dispute the validity of the account that was reported to the credit reporting agencies. There is information on how to do it on the FTC website. After presenting proof that you paid the bill, the credit bureaus have to amend your credit report.
  • Calmly explain to the collection agency that you are lawyering up and that if they don’t check back and validate the balance, you’ll start with a CFPB complaint and escalate from there.

For the record, it is possible that this collection agency isn’t out to get you. You may have been caught in a legacy process with bad data exchange between the hospital and the collection agency. The current debt collection process is often bureaucratic and opaque; the industry jargonistic and ruled by specific rules and regulations. Luckily, the law gives you recourse.