How can I be impacted by unpaid debt from 8 years ago?

A law firm called me today claiming to contact me about an unpaid bail from November of 2010 totaling about $3,000. They said they were filing within 24 hours and wanted to know if I wanted to settle out of court. Can they collect on a debt this old? I paid it on time until I went to prison for 3 years, then I forgot about it because they never contacted me until today. Can this affect my credit score?

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5 days ago

This could be legitimate and it could be a scam. Be very careful about engaging in these phone calls, as many scams are being perpetrated using exactly these tactics. If it is legitimate, whether they can collect will depend on your state laws and the specifics of your case, but there is a chance the statute of limitations has passed, and the debt is uncollectible. You will want to seek legal counsel on this matter. If you can't afford a lawyer, then contact one of the following to get low-cost or free help on this.

  • Your local Legal Aid Society
  • Your local State Bar Association to see if any attorneys would be willing to help you pro-bono.
    • The State Bar is the body which licenses attorneys to practice within the state.
  • Reach out to the public defender you had for your original trial and ask them
    • (This is the least likely to get help as they are overworked).

You should also investigate the law firm who called you. Ask for the name of the person you are speaking with, the name of the law firm, and the state the law firm is operating in. Once you have that information, ask them for the attorney's State Bar Number and the name of the partner they are working under. Then check with the State's Bar to see if the information checks out. If not, it could be a scammer impersonating a law firm.

If the debt is truly owed, it can impact your credit score. But that is a big if. First, the debt must be within the statutes of limitation in your state. Being 8 years ago, there is a possibility the statues of limitations has lapsed. Secondly, unpaid bail is potentially public record in your state, which means any scammer can go through the records and use the information to impersonate an official call. I find it hard to believe a law firm would spend the money to file a lawsuit over less than $3,000 which is why I'm skeptical and worried it's a scam. I also feel like the 24-hour deadline is suspcious. But to protect your credit, you'll want to investigate it more.

I'll reiterate my first point, don't act on this until you've talked with an attorney in your state to make sure the call is legitimate, and you actually owe the money. The above is not legal advice, I am not an attorney, and I don't know the laws of your state (or even which state you are in). You really want to talk to an expert in this area.