Megan McArdle, illuminating a very real issue:
Very old debts are very difficult to collect, because they disappear from credit reports after seven years, and after a state’s statute of limitation on debt collections expires, the collector can’t even sue. So these wily collectors either hope that the debtor feels bad about being a deadbeat and wants to clear his good name . . . or that he doesn’t know the law. And when hope fails, collectors frequently resort to less savory tactics such as threatening to sue (legal), threatening to have you arrested (it may be legal to make the threat, but they can’t actually make good on it) or impersonating a law enforcement officer who is going to come arrest you (very, very, very illegal).
I had this happen to me about seven years ago: some clown with a very suspicious accent demanding that I pay a debt they claimed I owed the phone company at my last apartment in Pennsylvania. I knew it was preposterous, because when I moved from Pennsylvania I made a determined effort to clear all debts that I had compiled, and even put a note in my Quicken of the “last phone bill” I paid. These fools cared not one wit: They had bought debt that had my name attached to it, they didn’t know any more about it than that, and they were going to call me and harass me over the phone until I gave in.
They did not know who they were dealing with. I told them to go ahead and sue me countless times. They called back. I dealt with them politely. They called back. I told them to perform acts physically impossible and morally heinous. They called back. What they refused to do was provide one solitary piece of evidence that I owed anybody anything.
Finally, I contacted my local Federal Trade Commission office. The gentleman there pointed me in the direction of a piece of legal boiler plate demanding validation of the debt and cessation of contact until debt was validated. I sent it via certified mail so they could not deny they had received it. The next time they called I told them I had sent that letter and would not say anything further on the phone.
A few days later I received a note from them claiming they had passed the imaginary debt on to some other set of sharpies who never contacted me.
Don’t let the bastards bully you.