Q: I’ve been working at cleaning up my credit report, but a collection agency keeps changing the date on my oldest debts so they look more recent than they really are.
These debts are all more than seven years old and should have fallen off my report by now. But they’re still there, depressing my credit score. What can I do?
A: The tactic of changing delinquency dates on old debts is called “re-aging,” and it’s illegal. One collection agency, NCO Group, was recently fined $1.5 million for re-aging accounts; that is the largest civil penalty ever obtained under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
Your first step is to write a letter to the credit bureaus that are reporting the inaccurate information. Make it clear that the collection agency has illegally re-aged the accounts and ask that the accounts be deleted from your files. Send this, and all other correspondence about the matter, by certified mail, return receipt requested. You’ll want to keep a good paper trail.
Unfortunately, the bureaus may make only a cursory check with the collection agency, which will probably insist that the information is accurate. You will then need to dispute the accounts directly with the collector, pointing out that re-aging is illegal and insisting that the agency provide the correct delinquency dates to the bureaus.
Debt expert Gerri Detweiler recommends sending copies of your letter to the Federal Trade Commission, your state’s attorney general, your U.S. senators and congressional representative and the Better Business Bureau in the city where the collection agency is located.
The collection agency “may decide they don’t want any more trouble and resolve it for her,” said Detweiler, founder of StopDebtCollectorsCold.com. “If not, she will need an attorney.”
It would be nice if you could solve the problem by paying the old debt. But that probably would make matters worse, because the payment would make the delinquencies look even more recent to the FICO credit scoring formula that most lenders use.
Besides, a collection agency shouldn’t be rewarded for using such sleazy and illegal tactics.