One important protection of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practice Act 9FDCPA) is written verification of the debt, which you should demand. Secondly, the FDCPA provides statutory damages and attorney's fees for consumers where the debt collector violates the Act. Threatening to take action they cannot legally take is a violation, as is representing that liability exists when it does not. Your needs will be best met by consulting with a consumer-rights attorney, often available on a no-cost/no-obligation basis. In the meantime, you would not send money to someone you don't know to pay a debt you don't think you owe.
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Ms. Sinclair is right on the money! Since the FDCPA contains an attorneys' fee provision, you might be able to find a lawyer that will take the case. The statutory damage award under the FDCPA is nothing substantial but commencing the suit will send the message to Sprint that you are not playing games.
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A bill from 1998-2000 is stale and can no longer be collected, at least under Washington law. I don't know about OR law, but here? It is too late. Other posters have given you good advice. Elizabeth Powell
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I agree with the other posts here. I may only add that, practically, you could consider proceeding roughly like this:
1. Send a letter to the collection agency notifying them that you dispute this debt, you do not intend to pay this debt, and they should cease and desist from contacting you further. You should keep a copy of this letter for your records. Under federal consumer law they must honor your request to stop communicating with you.
2. If this makes them go away, then you can go on with your life...
3. If they continue to communicate with you, you should keep records of all their communications, and contact a consumer law attorney if it is clear they are not leaving you alone.
This is just a suggested course of action, of course.
Best of luck,
Tim L. Eblen