Ugh, debt collections are unpleasant and often very confusing, especially when the debt is a decade old or more.
Did the agency send a validation letter or an actual verification letter? The terminology is not the clearest, but a validation letter comes first and then you can follow up by requesting a verification letter. You can ask for very detailed information such as a copy of the original contract, a copy of the last billing statement sent by the creditor and whether the debt is past the statute of limitations. (Here’s more on the validation and verification process.)
Assuming you have the verification letter in hand, you’re right, the next step is to dispute the debt. It’s important to do that immediately, because after a 30-day window you lose valuable rights. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has an explanation of your rights todispute a debt.
The dispute process may reveal information that will help your partner prove he’s not the correct person.
If not, you run the risk that the collector will sue for payment. If that happens, be sure to show up in court. In court, collectors must prove the debt is owed, and by the person being sued — the burden is on them. But too often people ignore the court summons. If you don’t show up, the collector will almost certainly get a default judgment compelling payment, often through wage garnishment.
Debt collection is tough to navigate, and you may want to seek legal advice. (This is where I remind you, I’m not a lawyer or debt-collection expert!) If you need help paying, contact your local legal aid office or veteran’s services if applicable.