Although it is commonly threatened by unscrupulous collectors, garnishment of social security and veterans' benefits cannot be done legally for private debts — only for delinquent state or federal debts such as unpaid student loans, taxes and government-backed mortgages. Unpaid alimony or child support can also be deducted from social security benefits, but supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits cannot be garnished due to any debt.
Another common complaint: repeated attempts to collect on debts allegedly owed by deceased family members.
The biggest mistake is to react under pressure. Step back and verify that the debt is yours before you pay. Many people don't and end up paying for debt that is not theirs. And some pay duly owed expired debt because they are unaware of the status of limitation — generally two to 10 years, depending on your state, after which collectors cannot legally sue consumers for unpaid debt.
What You Can DoTry these tips to avoid paying debt that is not yours
Request details about the debt and the collector's license number, company name, address and phone number. If the collector refuses to provide this information, assume it is a scam. Visit go.usa.gov/Fsge for signs of bogus collectors.
Check your credit report annually. When reviewing your credit report, look for unrecognized debts and inquiries by collectors or creditors. By law, you are entitled to a free credit report annually from the three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian, Transunion. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to receive your free credit report.
Write letters. Visit go.usa.gov/FsY3 for sample letters to help you get more information about the alleged debt, dispute it and stop contact with collectors. Always send letters certified mail with "return receipt" to collectors, creditors, and credit reporting agencies when disputing what is on your credit report. Send copies of the letters to the CFPB, the FTC, and your state attorney general.
For alleged credit card debt, insist on written proof that you owe it — such as statements detailing the unpaid charge. For medical debt, get a statement or invoice outlining services, dates and names of doctors, and cross-check information with insurers, Medicare and providers for payment or reimbursement status; collectors may call before payments are processed.
Know your rights. Get details of your rights at go.usa.gov/FsgB