If you have Netflix, late fees for movie rentals are an anachronism in your life. But that's not the case for James Meyers of Concord, N.C., who was arrested for not returning a 2002 VHS rental of a Tom Green movie.
The whole ordeal began Tuesday morning when Meyers was pulled over for a broken tail light. When the office ran his license, he was told there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest. The crime? Never returning a VHS copy of the 2001 movie "Freddy Got Fingered" to a defunct indie movie rental place called J&J's Video.
Meyers was let go, but later turned himself in at the police station. He was handcuffed, booked and an April 27 court date has been set. Far from being just a strange story, this man's experience brings up some key points about old debts...
Read more: Know your rights with debt collectors
We've seen this movie before...
Back in 2012, more than three million people were being harassed over debts of dubious origin from the defunct video rental chains Hollywood Video and Movie Gallery.
When these chains went bust, their collection records were apparently in complete disarray. The collection agency that has been attempting to track down alleged debtors had been using all sorts of unsavory tactics in the process. Their actions led to a settlement where the collection agencies were supposed to agree to stop all the harassment.
Under the terms of the settlement, the collection agency was required to have solid proof that you owed what they said you owed. But unfortunately, that did not stop them. Throughout 2012 and beyond, they continued harassing people about alleged Hollywood Video or Movie Gallery debt -- even though they did not have verifiable proof of that debt in most cases.
What should you do if this ever happens to you?
Obviously there is not a lot you can do if you're like Meyers and a warrant is discovered while you're being pulled over for a traffic violation. But if you receive a call from a collection agency, they are by law supposed to send a letter about the debt in five business days. Many don't comply with this requirement. But if they do and you don't want to be harassed anymore, Clark recommends sending them a drop dead letter in return.
In the letter, you'll want to dispute the validity of the debt and tell them not to contact you any further. Doing so is within your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
Now, this is important to note: If a legitimate debt is still within statute, a drop dead letter does not eliminate the possibility of you being sued against that debt. But it should stop the phone calls and harassment if you're dealing with a law-abiding collector.
Read more: Statute of limitations in your state