Get special attention
If your initial letters don't do the trick, you may have to kick your approach up a notch, says Smith-Valentine. Take a few minutes to research online the company reporting the debt. "Direct your next letter to the president's attention at the company's headquarters address," she says. "Because you get a different kind of response from the office of the president than you do from customer service," says Smith-Valentine.
Again, she says, send it certified and keep a copy in your files.
A good source of company information on collection companies: the searchable database of the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals, says Linda Sherry, director of national priorities for Consumer Action.
Her tip: Try searching by the location rather than the name of the company.
You can also follow up with a phone call after a few weeks.
Can't get past an officious gatekeeper? Call after hours and leave your message directly in the executive's voice mailbox, Sherry says.