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Yesterday I received an unexpected letter in the mail, a federal student loan collection letter from ConServe collections. I've never had a federal student loan, so it was quite surprising to receive such a gift!

The letter is a little strange. It has my full name on the address header, but not my correct address. After some family research, the address on the letter is my grandmother's, and I never lived at this address before. It seems that my grandmother received the letter, and then penciled in my correct address and forwarded it along. I can still see her handwriting peeking out from under the yellow US post office forwarding sticker.

I googled ConServe, and they seem like a real company. The NY Times did an article on student loan collection practices, and a significant portion was dedicated to the company.

After verifying ConServe was a real company, I called the number on ConServe's website to investigate. After explaining the situation, I gave the customer representative the account number on the letter, but carefully did not reveal any personal information. She then requested my name, to which I responded that, to verify that this was not fraud, could she please tell me the name on the account. She gave me the first name, which was indeed mine. I thought this sufficient, so I completed with my last name, and this matched up.

Next she asked for the last four digits of my Social Security Number. I believe that these are safe to reveal, so I did. They did not match the account (phew)!

Finally, I pulled my credit reports from all three major reporting agencies. This loan and collection do not appear on my report as of yesterday evening (June 29th). The letter I received is dated June 12th.

So my questions are:

  • Should I take any defensive steps to protect myself?
  • What could have happened to cause me to receive this letter?
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    A major defensive step is to use your own research to find contact info, e.g., phone numbers, rather than relying on anything in the letter. You apparently did that in order to contact ConServe (true?), so you can feel more comfortable that it's not a scam. – user2338816 Jul 1 '15 at 3:11
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    About the last four digits of your social security number: according to this article, the last four digits are the most important to keep secure, as the first five digits can probably be guessed by their algorithm. – Numeri says Reinstate Monica Jul 28 '15 at 2:35
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You've already done everything I would suggest:

  1. Contact the collections agency, being careful in what personal information you provide.

  2. Check all three of your credit reports, for any trace of incorrect information.

At this point, since you've confirmed that the social security number that the collections agency has does not match yours, and you've confirmed that you have nothing in your credit report about this debt, I don't think you need to worry about it.

Collections agencies employ a number of tactics to try to collect on bad debt. The first dilemma they have is finding the debtor. Sometimes this is easier than other times. In this case, they obviously don't know where this person is, so they just started contacting people that have the same name as the debtor, hoping that they will get lucky. Intimidation is a major collections agency tactic, so I'm sure the letter you got was strongly worded.

Your phone call to them may or may not have convinced them that they have the wrong person. (Believe it or not, people sometimes lie to collections agencies.) So the biggest thing you may have to deal with is continued harassment by the agency. If they think you are lying to them, you can expect more phone calls and more harassment.

The FTC has a FAQ page about debt collection. If you hear from them again, don't fall for any intimidation tactics that they might say to you. Just tell them not to contact you again, and report them if they do. They will eventually get the message and go away.

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    > "In this case, they obviously don't know where this person is, so they just started contacting people that have the same name as the debtor, hoping that they will get lucky." At least it's not a lawsuit! "I" was once given notice on behalf of someone totally unrelated to me with my same name who lived elsewhere in the same city I lived in, because the lawyer on the other side couldn't find the right guy and decided clearly I must be him. That was a fun mess to disentangle... – neminem Jul 1 '15 at 14:59
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A person name Matthew Drury or a similar name owes money on their loan, and it has gone to collections. The collections company is trying to match the account to a real person with money. They sent a letter to somebody (your grandmother) with the same last name. The debtor may have even lived in that town at sometime.

The reason you received the letter is because your grandmother forward it on. Because the rest of your info (SSN and birth date) don't match the loan it is unlikely they can attach the debt to you.

Unless you provided your address to the company you could in the future receive a letter from them. But I doubt they are going to send letters to everybody with the same name. I would not worry about it unless they actually send a letter or call you directly.

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First thing to remember is that a debt collector can/will use any information you provide to them to assist in collecting the debt. This includes names, phone numbers, addresses, and any other personal info. If you feel that the debt is not valid, I would avoid calling them and write them a letter with your return address as the address they sent the letter to. Don't give them any more information then they have already.

Per the US Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the consumer can write a letter to the creditor within 30 days of receiving the debt notice, disputing the debt and requesting verification of the debt. You can also include evidence that your debt has been paid or you have no debt, remembering to sanitize any evidence you provide as to not assist the debt collector.

I received an invalid debt collection letter for a gas bill and contested it this way. About a month later I got a letter from the collection agency dropping the claim. It's always good to have something in writing from the company in case the debt ever pops back up.

here's the text below from the FTC

What if I don’t think I owe the debt

You can send a debt collector a letter saying you don’t owe any or all of the money, or asking for verification of the debt. If you send the letter within 30 days of getting the validation notice, the collector has to send you written verification of the debt, like a copy of a bill for the amount you owe, before it can start trying to collect the debt again. You also can get a collector to stop contacting you, at any time, by sending a letter by mail asking for contact to stop.

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