Consult with an attorney in your area familiar with the FDCPA--the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. There are cases which have held that a debt collector requesting payment on a debt that is beyond the statute of limitations is in and of itself a violation of the act. IL may have its own statutes as well.
Paying anything back will not only restart the 7-year credit reporting period, but unless the payment were in full, it means the statute of limitations will start up all over again and you could be sued for the rest.
There are some law firms in Chicago that are major players on a national basis representing consumers in FDCPA matters; do some research on-line.
And, above all, stay disciplined. You have paid your dues endured the slings and arrows of all the years of bad credit, collection calls, etc.. The law gives you certain rights. Don't cave in just to "get them off your back".
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act bars debt collectors from using abusive, unfair and deceptive tactics to force consumers to pay. There are many aspects of this law, but...
seeking unjustified amounts, which would include demanding any amounts not permitted under an applicable contract or as provided under applicable law can lead to litigation and attorney fees awarded.
Contact an attorney near you.
The FDCPA provides four benefits if you win the case:
Lawyer paid for by the defendant debt collector
Costs and expenses of litigation are paid for by defendant debt collector
$1,000 in statutory damages if you have no actual damages
Actual damages if you have been harmed by the harassing debt collector.
Forget the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. That does not answer your question. The real question is how long is the statute of limitations on the debt for which collection agencies are pursuing you. Each state has a different statute of limitations For example, in MIchigan, we have a 6 year statute of limitations on a breach of contract claim and a 3 year S/L for a bad check. I dont know the S/L for these claims in Illinois, but it should be easy enough for you to find out.
If you make a payment on these bad debts, you will restart the Statute of Limitations so my best advise to you is to not pay anything towards them.
The statute of limitations in Illinois is five years for open accounts for debt collections and oral contracts and ten years for written contracts. The good news is that the debts are time-barred and you can't be sued for them. The bad news is that most courts have held that the FDCPA does not prohibit debt collectors from trying to collect on those time-barred debts, so long as they don't sue (or threaten to do so).
You can stop debt collectors from contacting you about any debt (even if you owe it) by writing a letter (certified mail, return receipt requested) telling them to stop contacting you. Once the collector gets your letter, it may not contact you again, except to say there will be no further contact or to inform you of some specific action the creditor intends to take. The debt collector can still sue you after you send the letter, but the suit would be time-barred and subject to dismissal.