by Seena Gressin, Attorney, Division of Consumer & Business Education, FTC
There’s a virtual “NO PARKING” sign planted smack in the middle of your credit report. It means that debt collectors can’t report your debt — or your supposed debt — to credit reporting agencies without first trying to check with you.
That’s a key takeaway from the FTC’s case against Midwest Recovery Systems, LLC. The FTC says Midwest used “debt parking” to collect fake or questionable debts. Debt parking is an illegal practice where collectors post debts to people’s credit reports without first trying to contact them. Many people don’t learn about the debts until they apply for loans, jobs, or housing, and someone pulls their credit report. Some people pay the debts to clear their credit even if they don’t owe them. Others never discover the debts but lose job offers or other opportunities because of the information.
The FTC says Midwest parked more than $98 million in fake or unverified debts on credit reports, including certain medical debts and debts for fake or unauthorized payday loans, sometimes called phantom debts. The FTC says Midwest continued collecting the supposed debts even after finding that 80% to 97% of the debts that people disputed each month were inaccurate or invalid.
Under a settlement, Midwest and its owners must stop all unlawful collection practices, ask credit agencies to delete any debts they previously reported, and take other steps to assure they only report and collect valid debts.
How can you protect yourself against debt parking? Check your credit reports regularly. Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion each must give you a free copy of your credit report every 12 months. And, all three are offering free weekly online reports through April 2021 due to the pandemic. Dispute any errors or inaccurate information you find.
If you plan to apply for a job or financing, check your credit reports at all three agencies before you apply, even if you have to pay for a report. That will let you clear inaccurate information from your report before it causes problems.