As long as zombies remain a fictional trope of movies and television, they're pretty fun. But a real-life zombie would be horrifying. It's pretty much the same with zombie debt: not so threatening in theory, but when put into practice it can have catastrophic consequences on your life.
So what kind of debt can rise from the grave and try to feast on your
brains wallet? Here's a breakdown of zombie debt, and whether the companies trying to collect on it are doing it legally.
As John Oliver helpfully explained, zombie debt is defined as debt you've already paid off, discharged through bankruptcy, or no longer owe because the statute of limitations on the debt has lapsed. In terms of our metaphor, the debt is legally dead.
But that doesn't stop some debt buying companies from resurrecting the debt by purchasing it and re-instituting collections efforts. Thus the dead have risen, and are chasing you down trying to get paid.
World War Z
But are zombie debts legitimate? Do these companies have a legal right to get your old debt? In most cases, no. But the debt buying companies holding zombie debt are relying on one of two things happening: either you (a) panic at the debt notice and pay, or (b) ignore the debt notice, and the notice to appear in court when they sue, and they therefore secure a default judgment that can legally be enforced. (While your discharged debt shouldn't come back to haunt you in this way, courts are so inundated with these lawsuits, they may not notice that the underlying debt is unenforceable.)
And even if the debt is legitimate, debt buying companies can't use illegitimate means to collect on them. Some debt collectors have been known to send purposefully confusing letters, illegally use prosecutors' letterhead, lie outright about the consequences of not paying, and even contact debtors on Facebook, all of which can be illegal.
If you're being harassed by a debt collection agency, you should contact a local consumer protection agency. And if you believe someone is trying to collect on a zombie debt, you should contact an experienced consumer protection attorney about your case.