After Sima Matthes' husband passed away in 2006, letters asking that she pay off his credit card debts began arriving within a month.
"I found out only after I'd paid that I wasn't responsible for debt incurred only in his name," says the 41-year-old assistant preschool teacher who lives in Freeport, N.Y. "If I'd known that before, I'd have used that money to pay other bills."
Just say no
Here's the bottom line when dealing with debt collection agencies:
- You do not have to speak with debt collectors who contact you about the debts of a deceased relative. Refer them to the executor or administrator of the estate.
- Do not give out any personal information. There are scam artists posing as debt collectors who check obituaries and then contact relatives.
- To stop a debt collector from calling you, send a certified, return-receipt requested letter saying that you do not wish to be contacted again.
Report any problem with a debt collector to your state attorney general's office and the Federal Trade Commission. For more information about debt collection, see the FTC's "Debt Collection FAQs: A Guide for Consumers."
Cathie Gandel writes on consumer and financial issues.