Phantom Debt or Zombie Debt
These names may be foreign to some, but the companies that operate within their confines are not. If you (or someone you know) have ever been subjected to debt collectors, then you probably are well aware of who phantom or zombie debt collectors are. According to a report issued by CNN in July 29, 2014 one in three Americans are now dealing with debt collectors.
Types of Debt Collectors
Debt collection practices fall into three major categories – house accounts, collection agencies or debt purchasers. With house accounts, employees of the company (their representatives) are tasked with collecting past due debt. Their goal is to resolve and collect outstanding balances before a debt becomes too old (typically six-months) and is written-off as uncollectible. Once the debt is written-off, it is usually sent to an outside collection company that is tasked with collecting the outstanding balance. In most cases (but not all), the collection agency gets a percentage of any monies they collect, some get upwards of 50% of all the money they collect. The last category of debt collectors are debt purchasers. These collection companies buy old debt that is no longer being worked by the original creditor or an external collection company. In most cases, the debt has aged substantially (often three or more years since the debtor defaulted).
How the Phantom/Zombie Debt Works
The reason it is called phantom or zombie debt is that these old debts tend to arise from the dead or are not owed or belongs to someone else – like someone with the same name or a deceased child or parent. After years of not hearing about an old debt, suddenly and out of nowhere, a letter or phone call comes from ABC, XYZ, (or whatever) Asset Management Fund (Company, LLC, etc.). The letter will state that they are attempting to collect on the debt owed to “such and such” company. They will lead you to believe that they are a debt collector working for the original creditor. However, this is not true.
The truth is they have purchased the debt from the original creditor or a collection agency (one that has given up on collecting the debt) for mere pennies on the dollar. They might have purchased your old debt that was originally $1,000 for as little as .50 cents. In the extreme, they may have spent several dollars for the debt. The asset purchase companies relish buying this debt for two reasons – it is a fraction of the original cost and with cumulative interest added it is now worth many times more than the original amount you owed the creditor.
Why the Misrepresentation?
Most (if not all) of these asset purchase buyers want you to think that they are representing the original creditor and that they are going to make you an exceptional, but limited time offer. They try to convince you that you can finally settle this debt and put it behind you. They hope that you, the debtor, is ignorant of zombie debt collectors and will easily fold to their demands and antics.
If they were honest and forthright and explained that they purchased the debt for pennies on the dollar, they would lose their ability to extort monies from you using deception. The asset purchase model is so lucrative that if only a small percentage of accounts paid up, the profits become staggering. One of the leaders in “debt asset purchasing” claims the retail value of their portfolio is over a billion dollars – are you starting to see the picture.
Consumer Rights and Protection
As with all debt collection, there are laws, regulations, and practices, which govern and provide protection for debtors. Unfortunately, overzealous collectors sometimes (all too frequently) go beyond what the law allows in attempting to collect a debt. In some cases, a collector may have violated federal law and could be subject to fines/penalties or both. It is important for a consumer to understand their rights and to seek the help of legal counsel when these rights are violated.
The next blog will detail the rights of consumers, and the standards that creditors and collection agencies are expected to adhere as defined in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
If you are having problems with debt or debt collectors, Dzousa Legal is here to help you. We will gladly meet with you to discuss your options. The initial review of your matters is without obligation or fees.