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I've had multiple encounters with debt collection agencies that all ended up being for medical bills that were never processed correctly in the first place that I had never seen before. In every single case so far it's been a legitimate, state-licensed debt collector, they have not fulfilled the requirements set by law to prove the debt, and the have just used scare tactics and bureaucracy to avoid a fair confrontation. I've filed complaints with the state regulator, at which point token (but inadequate) documentation has been provided and my complaint "resolved".

I have little sympathy for most cases in which people rack up debt and try to escape the consequences, but Good Lord, the other side of that equation is shady as Hell, even when done far more legitimately than this.

You should contact a bankruptcy attorney. I used to work for one and he loved cases where debt collectors violate collection laws. Getting a settlement was almost always easy and he split it 50-50 with the client.

Thank you for the suggestion. I just dug up documentation of the most recent case and left a message with a local bankruptcy attorney :)

Alas - it's been just over a year, and the statute of limitations is up. Next time.

Wow, even ambulance chasing personal injury attorneys only take 30-35%.

Same situation here, except I mildly suspect the debt may be legitimate, in that the onus is probably on me to fight my insurance company to have covered the money they decided not to, not the hospital.

In either case, first the hospital kept sending me bills with an account number that didn't match mine, and when I legitimately tried to pay it, they couldn't find me through account number lookup. This set off my suspicion, so I just kept asking for "proof of debt." Every time they sent it, some detail would be off, and I'd call them and tell them, and about a month later they'd send a new one with some new error.

This kept on, until the (fairly new) hospital moved its accounting office or something that caused them to really fuck up their records. I didn't hear from it for about 4 months until I got my first call from a debt collector. They really tried to hammer me on how they could work out a "deal" with me for reduced cost (I'm sure they probably paid 10% or something for my debt), so as usual, I asked for proof of debt.

It never came.

3 months later, another call, different agency. Proof of debt, never arrived.

3 months later, another call, ANOTHER DIFFERENT AGENCY. This time I just asked to be "added to their do not call list." They did.

Haven't heard from this bullshit in 5 months. I've checked my credit twice since then (once routine, once as a result of the equifax debacle), no sign of the debt. I guess I'm finally free?

Yeah in my cases the debt has actually always been legitimate - but I didn't believe it until I got documentation of what the actual charge was and how it differed from what I had already paid FROM THE ORIGINAL CREDITOR (the healthcare provider) as a result of my own proactive investigation. I have always paid the debt directly to the healthcare provider after they re-process it correctly. But that's precisely my point: even when it's a legitimate debt, the proof exists, and I'm willing to pay once I've seen the proof, the debt collectors are still scum about it. I'm glad I've always had the original creditor reprocess it correctly and bill me for the remainder directly: none of my money has ever actually gone to a shady debt collector.

Interesting, I noticed a hit on my credit report for a legitimate debt caused by an urgent care who sent the bill to the wrong address and eventually sold the debt to a collector (despite me writing my current info on the signin documentation they gave us!). I have offered to pay-for-delete with them but they have not responded at all. I'm thinking about what to do next.

If you have proof you provided the correct information to them it's probably time to talk to an attorney.

An attorney's would cost more than an urgent care visit

The way debt collection works in the US is the debt collector has to prove you owe the debt, not the other way around.

Pay to delete is a sensible option in the case where you know the debt is legitimate.

I filled out the paperwork (and they submitted it to my insurance which also knows my info), but I did not keep a copy of that. So I've no proof that would be admissible in court.

Could you claim that they failed to send you a bill, and therefore are falsely claiming the debt? Then they'd have to show that they did send you a bill, and to what address, and include a copy of your original paperwork. That would get you the evidence you need.

My friend went through this, and went to court over it.

In court, he claimed the hospital never provided proof of debt. The hospital claimed it did. The judge asked if they had proof of debt with them, right now. They did. The judge asked my friend if he was willing to pay it with proof of debt presented. He said he was.

Done and done. Orders were guarantee the debt is deleted upon payment, bunch of other weird legal stuff protecting my friend if it should appear on his credit report ever, etc.

I have little sympathy for most cases in which people rack up debt and try to escape the consequences

You might want to empathize a bit more. Most debt is racked up because those medical bills you mention are legitimate, but can't be covered due to lack of insurance.

The other way is to make a purchase and then lose your job, at which point you can no longer sell your purchase and no longer sustain the payments.

As I learned from my wife's first pregnancy -- you get bills from 12 different parties with vague names like Northern New York State Physicians Group LLC, which in aggregate are way over the co-pay limit. Try calling one, you cant reach them. Most are probably legitimate, but clearly they are incorrect in aggregate. We hired a billing consultant to reconcile all the bills, I imagine most people give up and either pay them all or just let it all go to collection.

I've made no comment about medical bills or people who legitimately lack the money, who have other legal protection. I'm talking about people who rack up debt and try to escape the consequences just because it is advantageous to themselves to do so. I personally know more of them than I care to. I apologize if the wording implied this was "most cases" of debt in general.

I wasn't calling you out. It was just a different perspective, mostly for readers' benefit. There are many people who feel that the poor are poor because they are incompetent or malicious, rather than because it's a self-sustaining cycle.

It's a good reminder to write less pointedly, though. If you have any tips on writing style or favorite authors, I'd love to hear them.

You yourself pointed out a way in which my own post could have been written less pointedly, so I'm probably not the one to be giving tips :)

Yep, same here. I got hounded by a collector for a fee that was incorrectly applied to a paid-off medical bill from three years prior. The only way I was able to fend them off was by sending a copy of a statement that I managed to find in the back of a folder buried under hundreds of pages of miscellaneous medical stuff. Moral of the story? Keep all medical paperwork for at least seven years. I've always done this and once in a blue moon it saves a massive amount of headache. You have to assume these days that someone will try to make money off you for not having records.

Debt has a statute of limitations?

If you have not made a payment in 7 years and they don't sue you then it goes away.

I think there may be a couple other actions that can reopen the statute of limitations, might be worth double checking. I know for libel, having a public timestamp get updated on a news story can reset the clock for that story.

Credit reports do...

This NY Times article that got a fair bit of attention a couple years ago details just how shady it is:


I'd be surprised if this article didn't get discussed here on HN at the time.

It's discussed here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8182953. I don't believe it was that particular thread, but HN has been the source of some very helpful advice on how to fight this: always using registered mail (costs a bit of money, but helps you keep a paper trail of dates they can't simply deny without more proof), staying calm and collecting as much written evidence as possible, etc.

This is probably what you refer to, right? https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7135833

(or if not, it's very helpful and worth a read)

I have a debt from a hospital right now which two separate insurance companies told me they would pay.

Last time I talked to the hospital, I told them to please bill the insurance I had supplied them, and not continue sending me letters demanding I pay them $1250 for a procedure that the cash clinic across the street said they would do for 380 (that's including the 'uninsured discount').

The guy on the phone said it was too late because it had been nearly 90 days and 'the computer is sending it to collections in a couple days'. According to him, he couldn't do anything about that.

What I learned from my recent experience is that if you've given them insurance information, and they haven't billed the insurance, it's not your bill yet. They have a year to do so, after which neither you nor the insurance are responsible. Now, I am not a lawyer and there may have been state laws in play that don't apply to you, BUT - that's worth keeping in mind. I ended up having to pay a co-pay after mine was reprocessed. Had I not been so proactive and persistent and a couple more weeks had passed, they would have had to swallow the debt.

> They have a year to do so [...]

This actually is highly dependent on state laws. In Colorado for non-emergency the doctor/hospital has 6 months to file the bill with the insurance company. If they fail to do so, or file after that time period, the bill is null and void (it's an agreement they have with the insurance company).

If it is an emergency (such as you got taken to the ER) then they have a year to file with the insurance company.

I know this... because the insurance company denied a claim that was made by the hospital due to an emergency because it was filed outside the 6 month time window because the hospital failed to mark it as being billed due to an emergency.

I only found out about the debt though when I got served and there was a lawsuit against me because the hospital (even though they had a copy of my drivers license) had been sending it to an old address I hadn't lived at which they had on file somehow.

I got it all sorted, and the insurance company paid, along with a fine the state requires for failing to pay on time... however the lawsuit still dragged on for one more year.

The original company that had made the claim, had sold the debt to debt collection company. That debt collection company had never sent me a shred of proof, so their calls went straight to the round file, so the lawyers for the debt company were the people I was dealing with.

They wanted to get paid for the debt, so that they could then send it to the debt collector, who would then send it to the original creditor, or at least, that is what I understood. However my insurance company just sent it to the original creditor.

So now the original creditor had to notify the debt collection company who had to notify the lawyers office that the debt was paid.

That took over a year. Each time I'd get a continuance to show up in court 3 months later, because the debt was paid, so they weren't getting a cent from me. I'd gladly lay it out to the judge, but instead they kept filing a continuance. Eventually the court in Colorado denied their request for a continuance.

Now the best part is that the debt was for approximately $300 dollars. In combined costs of lawyers fees/court fees/debt collection time/all that fun stuff I am sure they spent WAY more money trying to collect. Didn't cost me a penny, other than my time.

I'm definitely not paying them - the imaginary bill is their problem. I just think it's ridiculous that they are so incompetent.

This will probably not end well for you if you value your credit score. The bill is your responsibility. I almost guarantee you signed something saying you would be responsible for the full amount. If they haven’t billed your insurance, yes it’s incompetent and frustrating, but the correct way to handle this is to pay it off yourself and then work directly with your insurance company to get reimbursed.

Edit: I’m assuming you’re in the US.

The great thing is I'm not concerned at all about my credit score. I could see how this would be inconvenient for other people. Like the Equifax hack, to me this is another indicator of how ridiculous the entire credit score system is.

Simply on principle, there is no way I would ever negotiate with or pay people this incompetent.

Credit score affects more than credit. It affects your ability to rent an apartment and it affects your insurance premiums in all but three states.

This is true, too. I can see how that might be inconvenient for some other people, but thankfully I'm not concerned about my need to do the first or my ability to pay the second.

It's definitely ridiculous how unaccountable third parties can affect one's life in such a way, leaving the consumer scrambling to set the story straight about themselves.

Same here. I had months of calls from the agency and I think only because I was extremely forceful that I would never pay them a penny that they finally backed off and told the medical provider to bill the f'ing insurance. This was all complicated by the fact that I didn't see any bill for > 9 months (while they were billing the wrong insurer).

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