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Dear Liz: What can I do to get credit card debts that are over 7 years old off my credit reports? I have at least three accounts that are 10 or more years old, but the collection agencies keep selling the accounts to other collectors who report the accounts as younger than they are.

Answer: The collection agencies are violating federal credit reporting laws. Negative information such as charged-off accounts and collections are supposed to be removed from your credit reports seven years and 180 days after the account first goes delinquent (typically when you miss your first payment). Collection agencies are not allowed to “reset the clock” when an account is sold.

You can dispute these accounts with the credit bureaus, but the reselling and illegal reporting may continue. If it does, you will need to contact the collection agencies directly and tell them to stop. If they refuse, you may need an attorney’s help to get them to mend their ways. You can find a lawyer familiar with credit reporting laws through the National Assn. of Consumer Advocates at http://www.naca.net.

You might think that paying the bills would help, but you really don’t want to deal with a collector so unethical that it would change the date on a debt. Such a company is unlikely to deal in good faith, and you don’t want to give it any ammunition to do you further harm, such as access to your bank account (which it could have if you wrote it a check) or even your phone number, since it may start harassing you.

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