‘Zombie debt’: How a bill from 2003 came back to haunt a former Duval County resident 18 years later

Could your old debt come back to haunt you?

A man who used to live in Duval County shared his story of “zombie debt” with the News4JAX I-TEAM.

His debt of a few thousand dollars from close to 20 years ago ballooned with interest to more than $11,000 when a debt collector came knocking, he said, for the first time in 2021.

An attorney at Jacksonville Area Legal Aid said they see cases like his in the court system every week and with the pandemic putting other types of debt collection on hold, like for mortgages and student debt, some collectors began resurrecting debt consumers might have thought was dead and buried.

“Honestly, I thought it was a joke,” Justin Purser said.

Purser said at first, he thought it was too bad to be true: a notice in 2021 of an $11,000 debt from 2004.

“I was never never notified that I had any debt. Like, how is this possible? So I thought it was a joke, but unfortunately, it wasn’t,” he said.

Court records show there was a judgment against him in 2004 for a debt of about $2,800 and with attorneys’ fees, interest, and other costs, the total came to nearly $4,900.

He says he doesn’t know what the original debt was for.

“It could have been a credit card. It could have been medical,” he said.

The court docket in the case shows he was served about the debt in 2004 at a Jacksonville address, but he says the notice went to his mom’s address from a few years earlier that he’d used to renew his driver’s license.

By 2004, he was living in the Los Angeles area, where he still lives now.

“I’m a director, I work in movies and television, and there’s been a writers’ and actors’ strike. So I haven’t really worked in six months,” he said. “I’m like, am I gonna have to drive Uber Eats this week? You know, so it’s been, it’s been really, really tough.”

Earlier this year, more than $800 was garnished from his bank account to go toward the debt.

Records show F.A. Management Solutions, a company registered to South Florida attorney Hugh Shafritz, got the judgment against Purser in 2004.

It was that same attorney who came back 17 years later to try to collect the debt that had since more than doubled.

Jacksonville Area Legal Aid attorney Lynn Drysdale said the statute of limitations for a lot of consumer debt is 20 years.

If you do get a collector coming to you saying, ‘Hey, we got this debt from 10 years ago time to pay,’ what should you do?

Well, don’t ignore it.

She recommended getting advice from an attorney and said there are some protections from garnishments.

But resurrecting zombie debt up to 20 years later is not necessarily illegal.

“Think procedurally, there could be some protections built into Florida law, but that would have to be through the legislature,” Drysdale said.

“I want to really let people, not only in the state of Florida, but across the whole country be aware of zombie debt, because there could be people out there that have it against them,” Purser said

Drysdale said people can look up their name in the court docket online or at a courthouse in counties you’ve lived to see if there are any judgments against you that could come back to haunt you.

News4JAX reached out to the attorney trying to collect in Purser’s case but they did not immediately respond.

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