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How Do I Know If a Collections Agency is Real?

Ask Savvy: How Do I Know If a Collections Agency Is Real?

Dear Savvy,

I just received a letter from a collections agency (RJM Acquisitions) for an overdrawn checking account. It says the date account opened was 12/14/01. I had gone through some rough times and around that time had defaulted on two credit cards. A couple years ago, two different collection agencies contacted me on those and I paid them off. When I look up this company online, Rip Off Reports and such are pretty much all that come up, so I feel like this might be something fishy. My question is this: What do I do to confirm this is real and legal? I don't have any bank records or information from that time.

See my answer when you


I can see why you might be smelling something fishy with this situation — a Google search only reveals countless consumer complaints about the company and its history of scamming. It appears that RJM buys junk debts and then claims to be the new creditor for the owed debt. From what I can tell, what they're doing isn't legal — a new company can't assume old debts and call themselves the creditor.

It seems RJM has a pattern of buying debts past their statute of limitations dates and then resetting them; if the debt is in fact out-of-statute then the account has already been written off by the creditor. You need to check your credit report to see if they have reported your old debt with a new reset date and restarted the clock on it, which means even if you pay them it will stay on your credit report as a paid collection for 7 years. If the debt from 2001 suddenly appears on your report with a current date, it's time to take action.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a debt collector "must send you a written notice telling you the amount of money you owe; the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money; and what action to take if you believe you do not owe the money." Find out these details and ask for proof that you owe the debt and review the FTC website for more information about your rights.

If the debt isn't yours (or if it is yours but the statute of limitations has expired), file a dispute with the credit bureaus reporting the debt. You should also send a letter (without your signature) to RJM letting them know that you are aware of your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), and because the statute of limitations for this debt has expired you are disputing the matter and request they don't contact you again.


Join The Conversation
dsanghera dsanghera 8 years
I keep records of everything. I used to have a NExtel account about 10 years ago. Well after a particularly harrowing time of trying to make a call home to be certain someone would be there to let my young child in after school, I canceled my account. After much arguing with Nextel who wanted to charge me a cancel fee (it was their issue, not mine. They did not have enough towers to handle the calls from all of the customers they had. You would end up getting a message that you could not make a calla t this time. Try Later) so after much arguing with them, they not only waived the cancel fee, but they refunded my last cell phone payment. They used to bill a month ahead for services. So I got my refund, and when I got it, I called them and doublechecked that it was definitely mine, and definitely okay to cash it. I was told yes. Being the paranoid distrusting being I am, I photocopied the check, and kept it with the documentation regarding my refund and no balance owed. It's a good thing I did. About 3 years later I received a collections letter stating I owed Nextel an amount equal to the refund I received. I tried calling the number on the documents and all it led me to was a voicemail merry-go-round. No one ever answered. Research on internet showed it was a disreputable company who somehow garnered information and tried to manipulate it for financial gains. Calls to Nextel revealed that they didn't even use that company for collections. And they showed I had a zero balance and that the account was closed out in good standing. I ignored the letters as they were not legitimate. They just disappeared. But should I ever need to prove myself. I have the documentation. There is no such thing as "free" money. I always photocopy any refund checks I may get as a rule now. Paranoia sometimes pays
bellaressa bellaressa 9 years
Hey SATClover ---I knew what you meant, I just wanted to warn people that everything in the mail is not legit. The check came from NY, a company in NY, and the bank is also there. I called the company first and of course I got an automatic voice with prompts, well I left a vm for the person on the check. The funny thing is I was going through financial difficulties and I was thinking this check could be my ticket to get ahead. As always I felt bad for taking money that I think I didn’t earn. For two days I kept calling the company and the person, I decided to try out the other extensions ---each one said the same message. I then went to BBB and they were on there but nothing bad so I was like mmm okay. Everything seems legit until the BBB said the company was based in London, England and had an office in NY. I just wanted to know how they got my information. I just thought if it was FedEx to me, that one cost money and I just thought it was the luck of the draw for me. I called the Bank of Smithtown (since I never heard of it), the number and information of the bank was right on the check ---of course they had to call me back. So, I goggled the company name and found so much fraud and the fake check scheme. When the bank called me, I cooperated and sent them the originally packaging and the check. The company steals checks from different banks, they are legit but of course illegal. They give people a check when cash will give you the initial cash but most people want the rest of their “prize money” so they give their information for the rest of the prize.
SATClover SATClover 9 years
bellaressa: You are absolutely right that just because someone mails it to you doesn't mean it's legit. All I meant was that if you aren't SURE whether or not the company is real or not (if you know you owe something they might be real you never know), just say "Look just send me a bill". Then if you do get it, you can do more research and go from there. Also your story about the check is freakin weird, where did it come from? I mean what did it say on the packaging, how did you do your research and figure out what it really was? (Good for you by the way for being so smart about it)
cageyme cageyme 9 years
As the economy falters, companies that purchase old debt start to surface. These companies are not always scrupulous in the ways that they track people down. It is not unusual for them to contact someone who has a similar name and tell them that they are responsible for the debt. Don't let these guys bully you! But also don't ignore it. Frequently these companies receive default judgments against debtors simply because the person chose to ignore the problem. Good luck and hang tough!
bellaressa bellaressa 9 years
Only b/c someone mails you a bill does not make it legit. I had a company FedEx me a letter with a real check telling me that it was mine. As I further research yes the check was real but it was stolen checks from a bank in NY. It had my correct name on the check, letter, and FedEx packaging. That being said you should always pull your credit report and see if that debt appears and request written notification -It's best to do what Savvy said, she gave great advice.
SATClover SATClover 9 years
Also a tip if a "collection agency" contacts you by phone and tries to get you to pay over the phone DO NOT DO IT. Make them mail you a bill. Long story short, this happened to me and I didn't fall for it. Funny I never receieved an actual bill from them in the mail :)
colormesticky colormesticky 9 years
We've got some jackass agency trying to get a phone bill out of my husband from 1998- at an address he never lived at. Thanks for this, seriously.
ilanac13 ilanac13 9 years
wow - you know, this is really helpful. luckily i don't think that i have any accounts out there that i have to be worried about - but it's nice to know that there are ways of checking up on them to see how things are really going.
Renees3 Renees3 9 years
I hate that this stuff is so confusing. There's so many variable and whatnot. I need to start keeping ALL old paperwork! Thanks for the info!!
fleurfairy fleurfairy 9 years
This is scary!
bleached bleached 9 years
And watch out for those companies claiming to pay you for being a "mystery shopper"... GREAT BIG HOAX
skigurl skigurl 9 years
holy confusing!
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