‘Zombie debt’ taking toll on WNY’ers, just like ‘zombie property’

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Malikah Ramadan’s ordeal started with a phone call from a debt collector, demanding she pay up or else. A short time later her wages were garnished.

“I was very stressed because I had never been in a situation before. I don’t even have a traffic ticket, so going to court for something like this was a little overwhelming for me.”

But Malikah said, the debt was for a credit card she never owned, and in fact, the California-based collector had sued Malikah over two credit cards that had been “charged off”-the cardholder apparently ran up the charges, then didn’t pay the bills–and because she never showed up for court, Ramadan’s wages were garnished for both unpaid debts.

The payments were deducted from Malikah’s paychecks, even though the credit card balances were too old, by law, to be taken to court. Stephen Cho, an attorney for the Western New York Law Center said, the State of New York only allows debt lawsuits for a up to 6 years.

“This debt was beyond the statute of limitations so the plaintiff could not bring a lawsuit for this specific debt.”

Cho and the WNY Law Center represented Malikah in court, getting one of the wage garnishments dismissed, while Ramadan actually got the other garnishment overturned herself.

These are classic examples of “zombie debt”, except Malikah showed proof she never even owned the credit cards-she believes they were opened in her name by identity thieves–but the debt collector was allowed to resurrect expired credit card debt by offering testimony that the Buffalo mom had been served with court papers, and agreed to pay down the debt.

Malikah said that testimony was refuted in court, “When they described who I was, they described me as they had served a male, and that I had black hair and dark brown eyes. I have hazel eyes and I have red hair, but I never come to the door with my head uncovered.”

The California-based debt collector agreed to drop the lawsuit involving one of the credit cards, and withdraw the wage garnishment. For the other card, they not only agreed to drop the lawsuit and remove the garnishment, they are paying Malikah restitution for the money they have already taken out of her paychecks.

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