Bill collectors hound wrong man for nearly two decades

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PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — Matthew J. Hartigan of Clearwater, Fla., had no idea he shared his name with a man who stiffed a city and several businesses for more than $100,000.

Because of it, bill collectors have made the last 17 years of his life nearly unbearable. ‘This is the third time in twelve years I have had to prove to someone that you are not entitled to my money,’ Hartigan wrote to a law firm six-years-ago.

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More than a decade of mistaken credit trouble

Matthew told The Philadelphia Enquirer he was only 12-years-old when someone with the same name paid less than $3,000 for a piece of land in the city of brotherly love. However, the other Hartigan didn’t keep up with his responsibilities, sending collectors looking for him.

Instead, they found the Clearwater resident with the same name and began nearly two decades of beating on his door.  

However, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel.

The Enquirer’s Jeff Gelles writes, “Sharon Humble, a lawyer at the latest firm to demand he repay some other guy’s debts, told me Clearwater Matt had repeatedly been fingered as Frankford Matt by a third-party ‘skip-tracing’ company. Now his address has been flagged as wrong.”

In a letter to Florida Matt, she wrote, “we appreciate your patience, and we expect you will not receive further correspondence from our firm.’

Maybe, and maybe not.

Philadelphia attorney Jim Francis explained, “somewhere, deeply embedded inside somebody’s computer system, the wrong consumer is identified.’ When that happens, “you have to untangle it like a knot in fishing line,’ Francis continued.

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In this case, the innocent Hartigan will wait and hope. More here.  

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How to handle rogue debt collectors

Remember this: If a collector is harassing you, you can shut down their harassment by certified mail using my drop dead letter. And know that they can’t threaten to kill you or physically harm you. Mainly they want to create intimidation and fear.

If you legitimately owe a debt, you have specific rights under federal law. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind when dealing with collectors:

  • Always record any calls from/to a collector. Both parties must consent to recording in California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington.
  • If your debt is outside the statute of limitations, you are not required to pay up. However, you should honor your obligations when you’re financially able to do so. The statute of limitations is 3 to 4 years on many debts in most states. Yet a negative mark resulting from a delinquent account can hang out on your credit for up to 7 years.
  • You have the right to tell a collector never to contact you again. Use a drop dead letter and send it via certified mail. You can still, however, be sued against the debt even after sending this letter.
  • If you legitimately owe money and wish to make a deal to pay, never give a collector your checking account number over the phone. Collectors routinely take more money than they say they’ll take. Pay only by money order.
  • Never pay one cent until you have an agreement in writing stating your payment(s) will resolve the debt in full.


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