From August 20, 2007:
Syracuse (WSYR-TV) - We have a Your Stories Problem Solver on those old phone bills sold by Verizon to a Midwest collection agency.
We've heard from a lot of you who got the threatening letters from AFNI, Incorporated about phone numbers you never heard of, or debts you already paid, years ago.
Linda Degus-Barns sent AFNI a letter telling them she paid the bill more than a decade ago, that the debt was not legitimate, that she would not pay it, and not to bother her.
Then she called the state Attorney General's office about the collection letter. Linda says AFNI has now responded in writing, saying they've closed the account and apologized for the inconvenience.
Linda’s not the only one we've heard from who challenged AFNI and succeeded. Experts tell us the best approach is to send a certified letter, outlining why the debt is not legitimate, and include a reference to New York’s 6-year statute of limitations on debts.
From Monday, June 18, 2007:
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Syracuse (WSYR-TV) - Hardly a day goes by that we don't hear from more of you on the Your Stories line, who've gotten a threatening debt collection letter about a very old phone bill.
A Midwest collection company bought a million old accounts from Verizon, and in many cases, you're telling us those accounts were either paid up, in full or never existed to begin with.
State law may make it much easier to deal with these annoying notices.
Here’s the thing about these collection notices from the company called AFNI: the debts they're collecting are at least a decade old.
Linda Degus-Barns told us, “It just concerned me that after 10 years, somebody was bringing this up.”
Eric Reynolds said he hadn’t heard from them in 10 years, “In the last 10 years, I'm not a hard guy to find.”
That 10 year time warp makes a big difference in your favor, even if the debt is a real one.
Gary Thurber, with Consumer Credit Counseling of Central New York says, “There's statute of limitations. If you find, in New York State, it's six years. So if you have not made a payment on an account in over six years, you’re protected under the statute of limitations from having to pay that debt.
“You should just send them the letter, saying that under the statute of limitations, I'm not going to pay this debt. Please get rid of it. I don't have to pay it. And that should be the end of it,” he says.
If it doesn't end there, if AFNI doesn't close the account, but instead puts a mark on your credit record, having invoked that statute of limitations in writing will help you clear your credit with the reporting agencies.
Click here to visit the state Consumer Protection Board’s website. They have a very helpful on-line brochure that refers to this statute of limitations for debt, and other debt-collection advice.
From Tuesday, June 12, 2007:
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Syracuse (WSYR-TV) - We broke this one of Your Stories Monday night on NewsChannel 9, and we continue to hear from more of you, astonished at the debt collection notices arriving in the mail.
Tuesday, the state Consumer Protection Board says it, too, is taking complaints about the notices from a Midwest company which bought upwards of a million old accounts from Verizon.
We’re finding some of these bills are not only old, they're simply wrong.
Eric Reynolds is 28 years old, ready for his next career move, but worried.
“I'm looking to go to the police academy sometime soon. I haven't had an interview yet, and bad credit is something they'll look at.”
Bad credit in the form of a big collection notice from a company called AFNI. The Illinois-based debt collector says Eric owes Verizon a lot of money.
The collection notice was mailed to an address on Whittier Avenue. It's the home Eric grew up in as a boy. He hasn't lived here in a few years and they say the bill dates to 1997.
Eric was 18 then, he didn't have a phone in his name at that time, but they say he owes Verizon more than $1,100.
“I owe them $1,133.69, which blew my mind.
“Furthermore, what really confused me was that years later, I had a phone turned on by Verizon, and this never came up then.”
Never came up at all, until the AFNI notice came in the mail last week.
Eric's been busy on the AFNI website, trying to tell them he has nothing to do with the debt, and he wants his good credit cleared.
“I got down to it. That it's either a case of some type of mistaken identity, or some type of error, fraud or identity theft.”
His challenge now, is to convince AFNI and Verizon to agree the collection notice never should have been sent.
A Verizon spokeswoman says the accounts sold to AFNI were carefully reviewed before the sale.
Now, there’s new help that's available. AFNI is offering a special hotline for NewsChannel 9 viewers who are disputing these old Verizon bills. It’s 1-877-403-0670.
From Monday, June 11, 2007:
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Syracuse (WSYR-TV) - If you've received a strange debt collection notice in the mail lately, you're not alone.
A Midwest collection agency bought one million old accounts from Verizon, and in some cases the supposed debt to the phone company never existed.
We're hearing about this on the Your Stories line and as we found out, if you get one of these notices and know you don't owe anything, you can deal with it directly.
“I got a collection letter from a company called AFNI, Incorporated,” says Linda Degus-Barns.
The letter said, “This account has been acquired by our agency for collection.” It showed $37.62 as the balance due, Verizon as the original creditor, and it accurately showed Linda's old phone number in Lake Placid from 10 years ago.
“I got really confused, ‘cause I knew I paid the account, I sent them a change of address, moved to Los Angeles, and this and that, and I've had Verizon since 2002, so I called up Verizon and they told me that they'd sold all these old accounts that they'd written off, or whatever, to AFNI.”
The bill in question for Linda wasn't even from Verizon. It was from MCI which Verizon bought out years ago. It was a bill from 1997, a bill she paid, and Verizon knows she paid it.
And Verizon even confirmed that for Linda in a phone call.
“They had written off the account, and I was in the clear as far as Verizon was concerned, cause clearly if I hadn't paid it you would have known and you wouldn't let me get a phone line with you a second time, and she couldn't answer the question.”
Her phone call to AFNI didn't go much better.
“She said, ‘You sound like a really nice lady. You probably want to take care of this right now, today. You wouldn't want your credit affected.’
“I was worried about my credit being affected, because I work real hard at paying my bills on time. And it just concerned me that after 10 years somebody was bringing this up.”
The phone calls didn't get Linda far, but an AFNI spokesman tells me their website is more helpful.
Click Here to visit afnicollections.com (that’s the site listed on the letter).
Once on the site, go to "manage my account," there you are given the opportunity under the "unable to pay" category of either “already paid” or if you suspect it “fraud,” as in you never had an account with the phone number they gave you, or something else seems fishy about the notice.