How Can I Tell if a Debt Collector is Legitimate?

young woman doing research on bonds
Dear Experian,

On my credit report it states that there is an open account for more than $400 to a company I have never heard of. I searched the Internet and found out the full name is that of a recovery company. I proceeded to contact them, but they are requesting my Social Security number. I want to pay off this debt if it's mine, but I am not sure if they are legitimate.

- SRH

Dear SRH,

It sounds like the account in question is a collection account, and is being reported by the collection agency who purchased the debt from the original creditor. There are some things you can do to help you verify if the debt collector is legitimate.

Checking Your Credit Report for Information About a Collection Account

If the account is appearing on your Experian credit report, you should also see the name of the original creditor listed as part of the account information. You can check your free Experian credit report at any time.

If the name of the original creditor is also unfamiliar to you, or you are unsure what the debt is for, contact both the collection agency and the original creditor to get more information.

Occasionally, a credit account may appear on your report under a business name you do not recognize.

Sometimes the name that creditors use to report their accounts to Experian is different than the name you know them by. They may use an abbreviated form of their name when reporting. The account also could be reported under the name of the bank used to finance the account, rather than the name of the retail store or the company name that appears on your credit card.

In most cases, you can use the other account information provided, such as the open date, current balance, credit limit or original loan amount, to determine which of your accounts it is. You can also use an internet search engine, as you did, to look up the company name that is listed.

Experian takes steps to ensure that only legitimate businesses can report credit information to your Experian credit report. However, it's understandable that you would want to verify the company and the debt for yourself, especially since they are requesting that you provide them with your Social Security number.

Contact the Original Creditor and Know Your Rights

By contacting the original creditor, you should be able to verify not only that the debt is valid, but that it belongs to you and that the collection agency requesting payment is now the legitimate owner of the debt. You can also contact your state attorney general for further verification.

Learn more about debt collection and your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Thanks for asking,
The "Ask Experian" Team

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