If you are contacted by a collection agency concerning a debt that you are not sure that you owe, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) grants you the right to request that the collection agency provide you with proof of the debt.
Proof of debt is commonly known as a "debt validation". Until the collection agency provides you with a debt validation, it must halt all collection activity, such as calling you about the debt or updating the debt on your credit report.
You can request a debt validation at any time, regardless of how old the debt is. A collection agency, however, is not required to provide proof of a debt within any set time frame.
The FDCPA does not define exactly what constitutes a debt validation. Because of this, collection agencies often provide consumers with a printout containing the name of the consumer, the account number of the debt and the amount owed.
A printout from a collection agency often fails to hold up in court due to the fact that any name and amount may be placed in a computer. A printout is a record that the collection agency owns the debt but does not prove beyond any doubt that the consumer in question actually accrued the debt. A printout does, however, meet the standards for validation, since what constitutes legitimate validation is up for debate.
If the collection agency fails to provide adequate proof of the debt, any derogatory entry on the consumer's credit report concerning the debt must be removed.