ORLANDO,Fla. - An Orange county man was threatened with jail and a Seminole county woman had her car repossessed. Both consumers were the targets of companies trying to collect old credit card debts they didn't really have to pay.
Action 9's Todd Ulrich exposes the tactics used by zombie debt collectors, and helped both consumers recover what they had just lost.
It was a call Alexander Villagomez said he will never forget. There was someone claiming to be a process server on the phone who said unless he paid a $5,000 debt he would be arrested.
Villagomez said he panicked.
“Fear just runs through my brain right away,” he said.
Villagomez had credit card debt from 10 years ago. Now he was told if he paid $1,300, a law firm would forgive the rest.
“I thought they were going to put a bench warrant out for my arrest,” he said.
A Seminole County woman never got a call but a debt collector repossessed her car for a 12-year-old credit card debt. She never got her day in court.
“It came out of nowhere. I was completely shocked,” she said.
She said she couldn't pay bills after an accident left her partially paralyzed.
Those are just two from a couple dozen consumers who contacted Ulrich claiming rogue companies were using abusive practices to bring old debt back to life.
The Florida statute of limitations is 5 years. After that, collection companies can pursue you but cannot force you to pay if you legally challenge it.
The National Consumer Law Center found many consumers don't challenge and then fall victim to outrageous and illegal collection tactics.
“They may be threatening jail if they don't pay their debts. The people who are undocumented are threatened with deportation. They use all kinds of extreme measures,” said April Kuehnhoff with the National Consumer Law Center.
Ulrich helped Villagomez dispute his partial payment. Making even a small payment on old debt can renew it for another 5 years.
“I feel sneak attacked, bamboozled,” he said.
Ulrich contacted the debt firm that repossessed the woman's car. Her vehicle was returned a week later and the firm admitted it crossed the line.
“That was great. Thank you,” she told Ulrich.
The Consumer Law Center is asking federal regulators to ban debt collection after the statute of limitations expires.
If it's an old debt, consumers need to challenge it, and may need to seek legal advice.