ROCKVILLE, Md. — Imagine getting phone calls demanding you pay back a $56,000 student loan, but you never took out any loans. You don’t have a formal education, and you don’t speak English.
That’s exactly what Eric Friedman, director of Montgomery County’s Office of Consumer Protection, said happened to a resident who came to his office for help.
Friedman said his office was able to figure out that the consumer was a victim of identity theft: At one time, the person’s identity had been stolen, a student loan in that person’s name was taken out and the scammer then defaulted on the loan.
In this case, Friedman said, the good news is that his office was able to get the situation sorted out and got the debt buyer to stop contacting the innocent consumer.
But the story’s not over.
Sitting in his Rockville office, Friedman explained that the debt had been “re-loaded” — sold to another debt buyer, which has started calling the same victim. Friedman said his office is back on the case.
While it’s legal for debt buyers to try to recover what’s owed, Friedman said, there are regulations that they must follow. And problems can occur.
“Debt buyers don’t typically have the underlying documentation, meaning that there’s no student loan contract or agreement that they’re using to assert that a debt is owed.”
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act dictates how debt collection agencies and debt buyers can operate, he said. The intent is to make sure collections agencies don’t use abusive or unfair practices to recover their debts.